Measures needed in FRA’s

  • The government can start by recognising the role played in the FRA’s meagre implementation by the forest bureaucracy’s resistance as well as the acute lack of awareness of FRA’s community rights provisions in State administrations and forest communities.
  • In almost all States, the Forest Department has either appropriated or been given effective control over the FRA’s rights recognition process. This has created a situation where the officials controlling the implementation of the law often have the strongest interest in its non-implementation, especially the community forest rights provisions, which dilute or challenge the powers of the forest department.
  • If the government is serious about implementing the FRA, it should confront the forest bureaucracy and make it clear that any obstruction on their part is unacceptable. The little progress that has been made in implementation so far has been due to close coordination between tribal departments, district administrations and civil society.
  • There is also a clear need to strengthen the nodal tribal departments, provide clear instructions to the State and district administrations, and encourage civil society actors. Without a strong political will, this historical transformation is unlikely to take place.
  • Many states have a poor record of implementation of the act: Bihar, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have been identified as having lagged behind in implementation of the FRA. The misuse of a law cannot be the reason to dilute it or call for its repeal. Land is a valuable resource for those who live off it and one way of ensuring lesser fragmentation is to approve community forest rights which take a long time for clearance. People are at the centre of protecting forests and conservation and if the FRA is not delivering its promise, it can be blamed squarely on the government’s devious approach and its barely concealed intent to enfeeble the law.

The implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been opaque and there is serious lack of awareness about its provisions not only among the beneficiaries but also among the officials in charge of implementing it. Given the complaints from either side, it is time the government reviewed the law and also looked at the objections raised when it was first tabled as a bill.