From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Forest Rights Act
Mains level : Issues over Tribal Rights
- Recently the Supreme Court, hearing a petition filed by wildlife conservationists and former forest department officials, directed state governments to evict “encroachers” or the “illegal” forest dwellers.
- India’s forest dwellers were left undefended as the threat of an eviction from their habitation hovered over them.
Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA)
- The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on the British made Indian Forest Act of 1878.
- Both the 1878 act and the 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
- It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
- It defines what is a forest offence, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.
- Reserved Forest is an area mass of land duly notified under the provisions of India Forest Act or the State Forest Acts having full degree of protection. In Reserved Forests, all activities are prohibited unless permitted.
Ambiguity over Encroacher
- As per the new draft, forest officials have been given the absolute authority to shoot tribals for “violation of laws”.
- If a forest guard kills an “offender”, the move will invite no prosecution by the state governments without first initiating an inquiry into the matter under an executive magistrate.
- Under the new amendment, forest departments can also declare any forest as reserved and alienate the forest-dwelling communities from their ancestral lands.
- This will have a terrible effect on the tribal population, who are struggling to make both ends meet.
Democratic governance of Forests in India
- During the 1980s and 1990s, at least the Centre showed some kind of sympathy for the tribals, as a result of which important legislations like FRA and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, or PESA, were enacted.
- In India, forest governance has turned significantly democratic in the past few years.
- Back in 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture recommended that the tribals should be chased out. On the basis of that, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into being.
- However, through the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Centre recognised the symbiotic relationship between tribals and forests for the first time.
- This was then consolidated with the passage of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, when the Centre agreed that historical injustice had been committed and tried to undo the wrong.
- But with the proposed amendment, the injustice will be deeper.