Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Explained: Forest Rights Act

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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


News

Background

  • 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.
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