Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Need for Inclusive Forest Rights

India’s approach to Forest Rights is exclusionary and only benefits Private Capital. In the absence of necessary intervention, India's forest ecosystem faces a bleak future.
By IASToppers
March 31, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Diluting Forest Rights
  • Eco-sensitive Zones and Erroneous Classifications
  • Pressure of Tourism
  • The Fate of Forests
  • The Forest Department and the Implementation of the FRA
  • Solutions lie with the Locals
  • Conclusion

Need for Inclusive Forests Rights

For IASToppers’ Editorial Simplified Archive, click here

Introduction:

During a public meeting of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch held in Telangana in early March, the Central government was accused of delaying and denying forest land rights of nearly 53 lakh Adivasi families. The allegations against the central government included subverting pro-poor policies by opting for subsidy cuts and also catering to corporate interests at the expense of Adivasi settlements.

Diluting Forest Rights:

  • Forest rights” in India, both for the forest itself and for the communities that inhabit it, have been largely non-existent.
  • The fate of forests and their ecosystems have historically been at the mercy of capitalist interests, and governments—both colonial and post-independence—have restructured law to suit vested interests.
  • The callous nature in which natural resources are being extracted and justified for their “development” agenda has been unprecedented.
  • In Jharkhand, the Centre is currently looking into the “feasibility” of opening up 43,000 hectares of forestland for iron ore mining.
  • Further, the draft Indian Forest Act, 2019 seeks to undermine the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, to confer rights to traditional forest dwellers.
  • This act would override the powers of state governments and exacerbate the already-precarious conditions of local forest tribes.
  • Forest officials are to be given quasi-judicial powers in deciding whose claims of land and titles are authentic, and for those perceived to have committed forest-related “crimes,” officials can “shoot, search, seize property, and arrest citizens,” with the burden of evidence on the accused.

Eco-sensitive Zones and Erroneous Classifications:

  • The conception of ESZs ill-conceived—it is an exclusionary mode of conservation that displaces local communities and denies them their livelihoods—but also largely redundant as buffer zones already exist between forests and wildlife sanctuaries and human settlements.  
  • The villages in this area are of two types—traditional ones and others resettled from the core zone of CNP.
  • The Forest Department shifted villages from the core area, gave villagers the patta (documents) of the land, but we are still they have been treated like encroachers.
  • The status of forest villages deprives them of any developmental activities.
  • There are no schools, healthcare facilities, electricity and water connection.
  • These villagers are denied permission to make pucca houses (permanent concrete structures), claim old dried or felled trees in their courtyard, make fencing around their houses or claim compensation for crop loss as these areas are considered to be forest lands owned by Forest Department.

Pressure of Tourism:

  • Capitalist practices are immune to the ecological fragility of these areas.
  • While locals are made to shift and have their land taken from them, ESZ guidelines do not ban tourism in the ecologically fragile areas.
  • While the Uttarakhand government claims to support “ecotourism,” ground reports prove that such practices are largely non-existent.
  • As the pressure of tourism is rising, the government is developing new sites and gateways to the CNP.
  • Initially Dhikala was the only entry gate for the park. However as tourism grew many new zones were subsequently opened for tourism.
  • Recently Powalgarh Conservation Reserve has been created in the areas adjoining the village Powalgarh, and is being promoted as a tourist destination.
  • It is only the locals who have been made to sacrifice their rights and privileges, by privileging outside interests.

The Fate of Forests:

  • While the Forest Act, 2006 had its own set of issues, it saw success in empowering local communities and in making forest areas more “democratic,” in that the locals had rights to their land and there were more checks to resource exploitation.
  • The draft bill gives forest department more power to claim rights over forestland and private companies can also access forestland.
  • The proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA) which, among other things, would empower forest officials to use firearms and to take away forest rights merely through the payment of monetary compensation.
  • Both of these would essentially destroy the FRA.   

The Forest Department and the Implementation of the FRA:

  • The forest department officials have been reluctant to implement provisions of the FRA, 2006.
  • The act was supposed to rectify the “historical injustices” to tribal victims, but forest officials opposed it on the grounds of the inevitable destruction to forest cover and wildlife.
  • The implementation of FRA has not been effective or delayed, for instance (i) when the claims made by the “other forest dwellers” are numerous; (ii) where the number of claims with the evidence of occupation of land in forest are either recent or after 25 October 1980; (iii) where the demand for claims on the forestland is more than two and half hectares per nuclear family; and (iv) if the claims happen to be in the proximity of wildlife sanctuaries or parks.

Solutions Lie with the Locals:

  • India’s approach towards forests and ecology remains rooted in colonial constructs—that of revenue generation.
  • Such a stance is disconnected from such environment’s realities.
  • If effective forest management practices are to be implemented, then local stakeholders need to be at the forefront of such policy decisions.
  • Even when Chipko Movement challenged them, the response was to restrict timber-oriented forestry and shift the focus gradually to conservation, without paying attention to local needs or changing the allocation of management rights.
  • This coincided with an increasing attention to wildlife conservation, both nationally and internationally, and led unthinkingly to the formation of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks (that is, protected areas) where local rights were extinguished without due process or thought to the long-term role of those communities in conservation..

Conclusion:

For the sustainable use of forests and their conservation to be truly effective, all the stakeholders (locals, forest department officials, and government) need to accept the idea of democratic multilayered governance model and work in unison. The only way forward is to have a more open dialogue with department officials, rather than curtailing their powers. Gaps in the act are significant, and amendments need to be introduced to reduce the trust deficit between tribals and officials.

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