Skip to main content

Forest rights law: How joint environment, tribal ministry memo 'ignores' tribal interests

By Palla Trinadha Rao

The recent Joint Communication by both the Secretaries of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Ministry of Tribal Affairs for implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 dilutes the very spirit of the Forest Rights Act.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 was enacted to correct the historic injustice done to Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers whose ‘forest rights on ancestral lands and their habitat were not adequately recognised in the consolidation of State forests during the colonial period as well as in independent India’.
FRA recognises and vests forest rights in the forest landscape in the country. This Act is to restrain the perpetration of coercive methods of forest department against the usage of forest lands as a matter of right.
The joint note signed by the Secretaries of both the Ministries, undermines the very role of Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), which is the nodal ministry for implementation of the FRA so far issuing guidelines and clarifications in implementation of FRA.
The forest department is only a party to the proceedings in adjudication of claims that are approved by the concerned Gram Sabha for recognition of both community rights as well as individual forest rights under the Forest Rights Act. Tribal Affairs Ministry now saying that henceforth, they and the Environment Ministry will together provide clarifications only is simply not tenable.
Hiding behind the aprons of the Environment Ministry does not get away from the fact that ‘forest rights’ is a subject that is entrusted with the Tribal Ministry and not with the Environment Ministry since 2006.
Thousands of claims filed by tribals in both Andhra and Telangana have been opposed tooth and nail by the forest department personnel during the adjudication process before the committees set up under the Forest Rights Act.
It has become a herculean task to the District Collectors and Project Officers (ITDAs) to convince the forest department officials who are members of the Committees at both Sub divisional and District Level for recognition of forest rights of tribals.
More particularly in erstwhile Kammam and Warangal districts, in the State of Telangana, regular conflicts are reported between the forest department staff and the tribal occupants and also title holders of forest lands. Further, forest department is digging long deep trenches restraining the tribals from exercising their right to individual land cultivation as well as community rights.
The state governments through its high level State Level Monitoring Committee headed by the Chief Secretary is the statutory body anyway to monitor FRA implementation. Therefore now asking the State government to instruct the forest department to lead FRA implementation undermines this committee by pushing Forest Department to the centre stage in implementation of FRA.
This will only create more conflicts, both at ground level as well as within the legal framework of the law in effect, freezing the already half frozen FRA implementation due to the review of rejected claims resulting from the 2019 Supreme Court order to evict the rejected claimants and also the subsequent Covid-19 pandemic. This in effect undermines also the State Tribal Department who is the nodal department to implement FRA. The result would be the abandoning of tribal interest by the Tribal Ministry.
Thousands of claims filed by tribals in both Andhra and Telangana have been opposed tooth and nail by the forest department personnel
Anyway Forest Rights Act gives enough space to the forest department during the verification process of claims filed by the applicants for either individual or community or community forest resource rights and also all the way to the approval stage.
The Joint Statement further says that the frontline staff of State Forest Department should extend assistance to the institutions /committees under Rule 4(1)(e) and (f) of the Act for preparing conservation and management plan etc.
In fact the said Rules empowers the Gram Sabha to constitute a committee for protection of wildlife, forest and biodiversity etc. and also monitor and control the committee which shall prepare conservation and management plan for community forest resources.
Therefore the key role is with the Gram Sabha and its committee, not the Forest Department. The Gram Sabha may take technical advice from the Forest Department as and when required, but not mandatory. Gram Sabha is the fulcrum for forest governance as far as the community forest rights and community forest resources is concerned.
Saying that the benefits gained from the Joint Forest Management Movement need to be harnessed for protection and management of forests by the Joint communication, makes one to understand that the efforts to bring back the role of Joint Forest Management Committees floated by the Forest Department in the management of community forest resources which is a violation of FRA. The role of JFM Committees has been derecognized by the legal frame work of the Forest Rights Act.
The Joint Statement further emphasizes the role of Forest Department in undertaking the lively hood projects or schemes taken by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in relation to marketing, processing etc of non timber forest products. This undermines the State Tribal Welfare Department. In fact, both the Forest Rights Act and Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Area Act 1996 provide ownership right over minor forest produce to Gram Sabha and also empower them to issue transit permits to transport the non timber forest products and also value added products.
Therefore, the Joint Communication undermines the legitimate role of Gram Sabha in marketing the non timber produce and implementation of its related schemes. The Gram Sabha shall be the approving authority under PESA Act, 1996 to any project or schemes taken up at the village level. It is indeed sad to see the Tribal Ministry receding and acceding its powers, functions and funds to the Forest Department.

Comments

RR PRASAD said…
Excellent revelations of the contradictions.
Conservationist said…
Yeah, tribals should be allowed to deforest as much as possible. They should have the right to poach wildlife, clear forests and drain wetlands.

Forest rights triumphs all.

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.