Explained: Forest Rights Act


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Various Forest Rights Acts and their provisions

Mains level: Repercussions of eviction of forest dwellers from their rights



  • The Supreme Court put on hold its recent order asking states to evict forest-dwellers whose claims on land had been rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
  • The court’s decision to review its earlier verdict which would have displaced more than a million people from their homes in the forests, is a welcome move.
  • The SC acknowledged the need to ask whether due processes were followed by gram sabhas and state authorities before the claims for forest rights were rejected.

Colonial Legacy of the issue

  • In the colonial era, the British diverted abundant forest wealth of the nation to meet their economic needs.
  • While procedure for settlement of rights was provided under statutes such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, these were hardly followed.
  • As a result, tribal and forest-dwelling communities, who had been living within the forests in harmony with the environment and the ecosystem, continued to live inside the forests in tenurial insecurity.

The Forest Rights Act

  • The symbiotic relationship between forests and forest-dwelling communities found recognition in the National Forest Policy, 1988.
  • The policy called for the need to associate tribal people in the protection, regeneration and development of forests.
  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood.

Provisions of the 2006 Act

  • The Act recognizes that tribal and other traditional forest-dwelling communities would be hard put to provide documentary evidence for their claims.
  • Rule 13 of the Act, therefore, stipulates that the gram sabhas should consider more than one evidence in determining forest rights.
  • The rule sanctions a wide range of evidence, including “statements by village elders”, “community rights” and “physical attributes such as houses, huts and permanent improvements made to land such as levelling, bunds and check dams”.

Core of the problem

  • The recent order is based on affidavits filed by the States, which does not make clear whether the due process of law was observed before the claims were rejected.
  • The Centre argues that the rejection of claims is particularly high in the States hit by Left-Wing Extremism, where tribal population is high.
  • The forest land claims of these tribes and forest-dwellers are mostly rejected by the States.
  • Being poor and illiterate, living in remote areas, they do not know the appropriate procedure for filing claims.
  • The gram sabhas, which initiate the verification of their claims, are low on awareness of how to deal with them.
  • The rejection orders were not even communicated to these communities.
Tribal Development

Greens in the red: Why Aravallis matter to National Capital Region


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Aravalli Mountains

Mains level: Row over Haryana’s proposed amendment bill



  • It was in 1900 that the then Government of Punjab enacted the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), aimed at “conservation of sub-soil water” and “prevention of erosion” by giving the state power to “regulate, restrict or prohibit” certain activities, including “clearing or breaking up” of land.
  • As a result, for the last 118 years, the Act provided notified tracts of land in the Aravallis protection against real estate construction, urbanisation and mining.

Haryana misadventures

  • The Haryana government passed an amendment Bill which environmentalists have since termed a “repeal” of the 1900 Act.
  • The Bill proposed several changes to the Act, including exclusion of land that falls under “final development plans” or any other “town improvement plans or schemes” from its ambit, leaving thousands of acres of the Aravallis vulnerable.
  • Days later the apex Court came down heavily on the Haryana government for the move, calling it “sheer contempt”, and restraining the state from implementing it.
  • In multiple orders over several years, the Supreme Court has reiterated the PLPA’s powers, recognising land notified under the Act as a “forest”.

Critical amendments the assembly passed

  • The amendment excludes “certain lands” from the ambit of PLPA, including land included in the “final development plans, town improvement plans or schemes, any public infrastructure”
  • It gives state government the power to “amend or rescind” any notification or orders made under PLPA
  • It gives state government the power to exempt “any class of person or areas or land” from “any or all provisions” of PLPA if it causes them “undue hardship”
  • It directed that PLPA orders and notifications will be valid for a period of 30 years, and the “regulations, restrictions or prohibitions” imposed shall “cease to exist” afterwards.

Why Aravallis matters?

  • The Aravallis in Haryana are home to over 400 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs, more than 200 native and migratory bird species, and wildlife that includes leopards, jackals, hyenas, mongoose and civet cats.
  • They are crucial to groundwater recharge, which is significant given the water scarcity the region faces during harsh summer months.
  • The thick forest cover helps to naturally purify air in a region plagued by high levels of vehicular and industrial pollution through the year

Many fears

  • The Wildlife Institute of India, in a 2017 report, had highlighted: “The forests of the Aravalli range in Haryana are now the most degraded forests in India, most of the indigenous plant species have disappeared.
  • The rapid deforestation and developmental activities are destroying the unique landscape that requires immediate conservation attention.

What if PLPA amended?

  • The PLPA amendment, if implemented, will also impact another legislation that is in place to protect the Aravallis — the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) — fear environmentalists.
  • There are two criteria for an area to be declared NCZ — it must either be recognised as a forest, or as Aravallis.
  • However, the Haryana government does not recognise the latter as a criterion for NCZ, and the only forests recognised in the state are PLPA notified lands.
  • If the PLPA is gone, then NCZ will also come under threat because Haryana is resisting the identification of Aravallis as a criteria for NCZ.
  • There will be no legal forest left; with the Aravallis not being accepted as a criteria, NCZ protection will go too.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

[op-ed snap] Towards dignity


Mains Paper 2: Governance | mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Constitutional and other provisions to end manual scavenging and their lax implementation leading to loss of lives of manual scavengers.



The Delhi government introduced o a fleet of 200 machine-equipped trucks to eliminate manual scavenging.

Technology led initiative

  • The sewer-cleaning machines have been designed to meet the demands of the small lanes in the capital’s slums and urban villages.
  • Each unit has a tank to spray water and a sludge compartment to collect the silt cleaned up by the machine — this sludge was usually left along the sewer during manual cleaning.
  • The machines will be given to manual scavengers, who will be trained to operate them.
  • The sanitation workers, who will be given the new machines, were identified by a Delhi government survey last year.

State’s denial in Identification of manual scavengers

  • Delhi lacks an accurate count of the people engaged in manual scavenging.
  • During a survey last year by the Centre, the governments of Haryana, Bihar and Telangana did not report even a single manual scavenger.
  • But the task force conducting the survey — it comprised members from the ministries of social justice, rural development, drinking water and sanitation, and housing and urban affairs and the National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation — found that there were 1,221 manual scavengers in Bihar, Haryana had 846 such workers and 288 people in Telangana were engaged in this dehumanising practice.

Failure in the implementation of the law

  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, allows the use of manual labour to clean sewage if the employer provides safety gear.
  • But, in practice, this provision is more flouted than followed.
  • According to the social justice ministry’s records, one person dies every five days while cleaning sewers — unofficial reports indicate that the figure could be much higher.
  • Municipal corporations and local bodies very often outsource the sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors, who do not maintain proper rolls of workers.
  • In case after case of sanitation workers being asphyxiated to death while working toxic sludge pools in different parts of the country, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.

Way forward

The Delhi government’s move to use machines is a first step towards according dignity and respect to sewer workers. It should be emulated in other parts of the country. However, technology’s emancipatory powers will be realised at their fullest only when the states stop living in denial about manual scavenging.

Swachh Bharat Mission

[op-ed snap]The basics are vital


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ayushman Bharat, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), National Health Mission

Mains level: Need to increase expenditure on Primary health care to build a robust health infrastructure



The overall situation with the NHM, India’s flagship programme in primary health care, continues to be dismal.

Expected expenditure on primary health care services

  • In 2011, a high-level expert group on universal health coverage reckoned that nearly 70% of government health spending should go to primary health care.
  • The National Health Policy (NHP) 2017 also advocated allocating resources of up to two-thirds or more to primary care as it enunciated the goal of achieving “the highest possible level of good health and well-being, through a preventive and promotive healthcare orientation”.

Current spending on primary health care

  • Last year, an outlay of ₹1,200 crore was proposed to transform 1.5 lakh sub-health centres into health and wellness centres by 2022, which would provide a wider range of primary care services than existing sub- and primary health centres (PHC).
  • Going by the government’s own estimate, in 2017, it would cost ₹16 lakh to convert a sub-health centre into a health and wellness centre.
  • This year, the outlay is ₹1,600 crore (a 33% increase) clubbed under the National Health Mission (NHM) budget.
  • The current outlay is less than half the conservative estimate — not to mention that building health and wellness centres at the given rate (15,000 per year) can fulfil not even half the proposed target of 1.5 lakh health and wellness centres till 2022.

Allocation to National Health Mission

  • The overall situation with the NHM, India’s flagship programme in primary health care, continues to be dismal.
  • The NHM’s share in the health budget fell from 73% in 2006 to 50% in 2019 in the absence of uniform and substantial increases in health spending by States.
  • The NHM budget for this year (₹31,745 crore) barely crosses the actual spending on the programme in 2017-18 (₹ 31,510 crore).

Allocation to Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY)

  • The Centre looks fairly committed to increasing access to hospitalisation care, predominantly through private players.
  • This reflects in the 167% increase in allocation this year for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) — the insurance programme which aims to cover 10 crore poor families for hospitalisation expenses of up to ₹5 lakh per family per annum — and the government’s recent steps to incentivise the private sector to open hospitals in Tier II and Tier III cities.
  • The increase in the PMJAY budget is a welcome step — spending on this colossal insurance programme will need to rise considerably with every passing year so that its commitments can be met.
  • However, the same coming at the expense of other critical areas is ill-advised.

Staff shortage

  • There is a shortage of PHCs (22%) and sub-health centres (20%), while only 7% sub-health centres and 12% primary health centres meet Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS) norms.
  • There is a shortage of PHCs (22%) and sub-health centres (20%), while only 7% sub-health centres and 12% primary health centres meet Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS) norms.
  • Data by IndiaSpend show that there is a staggering shortage of medical and paramedical staff at all levels of care: 10,907 auxiliary nurse midwives and 3,673 doctors are needed at sub-health and primary health centres, while for community health centres the figure is 18,422 specialists.

Way forward

  • While making hospitalisation affordable brings readily noticeable relief, there is no alternative to strengthening primary health care in the pursuit of an effective and efficient health system.
  • The achievement of a “distress-free and comprehensive wellness system for all”, , hinges on the performance of health and wellness centres as they will be instrumental in reducing the greater burden of out-of-pocket expenditure on health.
  • Their role shall also be critical in the medium and long terms to ensure the success and sustainability of the PMJAY insurance scheme, as a weak primary health-care system will only increase the burden of hospitalisation.
  • Apart from an adequate emphasis on primary health care, there is a need to depart from the current trend of erratic and insufficient increases in health spending and make substantial and sustained investments in public health over the next decade. Without this, the ninth dimension (‘Healthy India’) of “Vision 2030” will remain unfulfilled.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Kanyashree stipends are no shield against trafficking


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Kanyashree and Syawangsiddha Schemes

Mains level: Various laws/schemes against trafficking and their effectiveness in curbing it


  • Despite being 56.09 lakh beneficiaries of the scheme in 2016-18 Human trafficking still persists in West Bengal at an unprecedented level.
  • As the per NCRB data, West Bengal reports the highest number of cases.
  • Data for 2016 shows that of the 8,132 cases in the country, 3,579 cases (around 44%) were from West Bengal.

Kanyashree Prakalpa

  • The Kanyashree Prakalpa (KP) introduced by the Govt. of West Bengal in 2013 is a conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme aimed at simultaneously reducing underage marriage and adolescent dropout among girls.
  • This scheme received widespread recognition at both national and international levels.
  • Most recently it awarded the first in the Asia-Pacific group for the category “reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive services and participation” by the United Nations in 2017.
  • This two-tier scheme consists of an annual grant of Rs750 for unmarried girls between the age of 13 and 18 years who are enrolled in some educational institution (KP1).
  • And a one-time grant of Rs 25,000 upon the attainment of 18 years, conditional upon her remaining both unmarried and continuing studies till that age (KP2).

Multiple schemes

  • Kanyashree is an overarching scheme apart from several other schemes aimed at combating trafficking.
  • In September 2018, West Bengal government rolled out Swayangsiddha scheme run by the West Bengal police to prevent trafficking.
  • Under the scheme (which means self reliance) complaint boxes have been installed in the schools where girls can submit any complaint of stalking or harassment faced by them or any of their friends.
  • Syawangsiddha is a scheme and is not as widespread as Kanyashree.

Lacunae in the Schemes

  • The situation had somewhat improved due to intervention of Kanyashree, still there were cases of girls from school going missing and being trafficked.
  • Trafficking is a complex problem and one scheme, which provides impetus to girls to remain in school, cannot put an end to trafficking.
  • Under the K1 scheme the benefit of Rs. 750 annually is hardly a deterrent to trafficking.
Women Safety Issues – Marital Rape, Domestic Violence, Swadhar, Nirbhaya Fund, etc.

RCEP nations to intensify talks to conclude trade pact


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RCEP, ASEAN

Mains level: Impact of joining RCEP on Indian economy as well as foreign policy


  • The 7th RCEP Inter-sessional Ministerial Meeting was recently held in Cambodia.
  • Commerce ministers of RCEP countries including India and china, which are negotiating a mega trade deal, held a crucial meeting in Cambodia.

Importance of the Summit

  • After five years of intense negotiations, India at the end of the 2nd RCEP summit is now perceived as a constructive player.
  • This will ensure that there is no marginalisation of request of smaller countries.
  • There is room for policy space for developing countries in transition as it will help moderate ambitions, particularly in the goods negotiations and lead to balanced and mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • India’s flexibility helped in facilitating successful conclusion of three chapters – institutional provisions; sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures and standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment.

Outcomes of the Summit

  • The 16 members of the RCEP group, including India and China has agreed to intensify ongoing negotiations for a proposed mega trade agreement to resolve all issues and conclude the talks this year.
  • To ensure that progress is made towards meeting the target for conclusion in 2019, the Ministers agreed to intensify engagement, including by convening more inter-sessional meetings.
  • All Ministers resolved to exert utmost effort to achieve the target of concluding negotiations this year.
  • The leaders commended the Trade Negotiating Committee for the progress made to date on both market access and text-based negotiations.

Eyes on India

  • RCEP members want India to eliminate or significantly reduce customs duties on maximum number of goods it traded with them. India’s huge domestic market provides immense opportunity of exports for RCEP countries.
  • But lower level of ambitions in services and investments, a key area of interest for India, does not augur well for the agreement that seeks to be comprehensive in nature.



  • RCEP bloc includes 10 countries of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and their six free trade pact partners namely Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
  • The RCEP bloc aims to cover among the issues related to goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE)


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AWE mission

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • NASA has selected a $42 million mission that will help scientists understand and, ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system around our planet.

Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission

  • AWE is a Mission of Opportunity under NASA’s Heliophysics Explorers Program, which conducts focused scientific research and develops instrumentation to fill the scientific gaps between the agency’s larger missions.
  • The AWE mission will cost $42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
  • The new experiment will obtain global observations of an important driver of space weather in a dynamic region of Earth’s upper atmosphere that can cause interference with radio and GPS communications.
  • The AWE will focus on colourful bands of light in Earth’s atmosphere, called airglow, to determine what combination of forces drive space weather in the upper atmosphere.

Why new mission?

  • Space weather is important because it can have profound impacts affecting technology and astronauts in space, disrupting radio communications and, at its most severe, overwhelming power grids.
  • Researchers once thought that only the Sun’s constant outflow of ultraviolet light and particles, the solar wind, could affect the region.
  • However, recently they have learned that solar variability is not enough to drive the changes observed, and Earth’s weather also must be having an effect.
  • To help unravel that connection, AWE will investigate how waves in the lower atmosphere, caused by variations in the densities of different packets of air, impact the upper atmosphere.
  • This proposed mission would investigate how giant space weather storms from the Sun, called solar particle storms, are accelerated and released into planetary space.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries