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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 32 New Delhi July 27, 2019

Status of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers under the Indian Forest Rights Act 2006

Saturday 27 July 2019

by Suparna Sanyal Mukherjee

The rabble of India was habituating in and around the Indian woodlands since time immemorial, but they had no legal rights to their homes, lands or livelihood sustenance.

The authorities of the Indian Government have had all the powers over the forests and forest dwellers.

As a result both forest and forest dwellers were diminished and disappointed uninterrup-tedly. The Forest Rights Act 2006 recognised forest-dwellers’ rights and made conservation accountable.

The Forest Law of India is not potentially correlated with the actual forests, under the decree of the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be “Government Forests” without recording any details of forest dwellers who resided and are residing within the periphery of the forest since a long time back. Moreover, they were those who had age-old rights over the Indian Forests.

Utilisation of forest land or forest areas by the forest dwellers, especially tribes and other traditional forest habitations, were unrecorded. There are no survey records in accordance with the settlement of rights, not even any enquiry regarding that fact. The Tiger Task Force of the Government of India put a notification in the name of conservation; what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme.

The prevailing situation counteracts with the millions of people who were subjugated through harassment, evictions etc. on the pretext of being encroachers in their own homes. Torture, bonded labour, extortion of money and sexual assault—were all extremely common. More than three lakh families were driven into destitution and starvation due to the national eviction which started from 2002 onwards. In Central Madhya Pradesh alone, more than 125 villages have been burned to the ground. The unhealthy and precarious condition led the then Commis-sioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes to mention in his 29th report that: “The criminali-sation of the entire communities in the tribal areas is the darkest bolt on the liberal tradition of our country.”

The Indian Forest Act 1927 was based absolutely on commercial purposes by the then British Government. It sought to override the customary rights and forest management systems by declaring forests as state property and exploiting their timber. The law says that at the time a “forest” is declared, a single official (the Forest Settlement Officer) is to enquire into and “settle” the land and forest rights the people had in that area. These all-powerful officials unsurprisingly either neglected their duty or recorded only the rights of powerful communities

The Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was an Act to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded; to provide for a framework for recording the forest rights so vested and the nature of evidence required for such recognition and vesting in respect of forest land.

Whereas the recognised rights of the forest- dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers include responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance and thereby strengthening the conser-vation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers;

And whereas the 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, resulting in historical injustice to the forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem;

And whereas, it has become necessary to address the long-standing insecurity of territorial and access rights of forest-dwelling Schedule Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers including those who were forced to relocate their dwelling due to State development interventions—

The law recognises three types of rights, namely, Land rights, Use of rights and Rights to protect and conserve. This deals with only land rights to the concerned users who had age- old rights over the forests. [Chapter III, Section 3 (1)] For the purposes of this Act, the rights which secure individual or community tenure or both, are forest rights of forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers on all forest lands mentioned in the sub-sections, namely, a, e, f, g, m.

a. Right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers.

e. Rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities.

f. Rights in or over disputed lands under any nomenclature in any State where claims are disputed

g. Rights for conservation of Pattas or leases or grants by any local authority or any State Government on forest lands to titles.

m. Right to allow rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal enlistment to rehabilitation prior to the 13th day of December, 2005.

Status report on implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (for the period ending 31.01.2019), recognises an updated status of the twenty States of the Indian territory of the Act in Annexure- I. According to the survey report, 42,29,230 claims have been recorded of which 40,80,842 are individual and 1,48,388 community claims. As many as 19,05,155 titles in accordance with 18,29,201 individual and 75,951 community claims have been distributed. A total of 38,43,628 claims have been disposed.

The forest land for which titles have been distributed (in acres) for individuals are 39,44, 851.71 acres, for community concerned 86,34, 599.63 acres and total 1,25,79,451.33 acres. 31.36 per cent acres of land have been distributed for individuals and 68.64 per cent land for the community concerned.

The status report shows 96.49 per cent claims have been recorded as individuals and 3.51 per cent for community orientation out of a total recorded claims of 42,29,230 till January 31, 2019 all over India. It highlights that 96.01 per cent individual titles have been distributed and 3.99 per cent community title claims also distributed as community aspects out of a total 19,05,155 titles.

Notwithstanding the exact status of twenty States of the country, there is a high status in claims of forest land as individuals whereas the community concerned shows lack in clemency as far as forest land is concerned. In case of distribution of the land area the community concerned shows high value in accordance with individual distribution which tantamounts to disposition of individual clemency.

Hence, the claims of forest land as individual and community-wise depend upon recognition of the said category as per the Forest Rights Act 2006, authoritatively and through proof-orientation. The rights of forest land and claims thereof are still continuing in their own process and distribution of forest land to the people concerned is necessitated as per the demand which recognises clemency as individual and as community-wise in conformity with the Forest Rights Act 2006.

Dr Suparna Sanyal Mukherjee, M.Sc, M.Ed, Ph.D, is the Head, Ph.D Cell and Academic Coordinator, Seacom Skills University, Kendradangal, Bolpur, Santiniketan, Birbhum (West Bengal).

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