The Odisha government is chasing an ambitious target of completing implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by granting all kinds of rights mandated under the historic Act by 2024.
About Forest Rights Act (FRA) –
- Aimed at protecting the rights of forest dwelling tribal communities the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 promised much. However, over the years its implementation has been tardy and there have been concerted efforts to dilute it.
- The legislation, which was passed in December 2006, concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.
- The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
Rights under the Act –
- Title rights – Ownership to land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family (as on December 13, 2005 and not thereafter), meaning that no new lands are granted.
- Use rights – To minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
- Relief and development rights – To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
- Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.
Eligibility to get rights under the Act is confined to those who “primarily reside in forests” and who depend on forests and forest land for a livelihood. Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.
Process of recognition of rights –
- The Act provides that the gram sabha, or village assembly, will initially pass a resolution recommending whose rights to which resources should be recognised.
- This resolution is then screened and approved at the level of the sub-division (or taluka) and subsequently at the district level.
- The screening committees consist of three government officials (Forest, Revenue and Tribal Welfare departments) and three elected members of the local body at that level. These committees also hear appeals.
Why this law was necessary?
- Under the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be “government forests” without recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the forest and so on.
- 82% of Madhya forest blocks and 40% of Odisha’s reserved forests were never surveyed; similarly 60% of India’s national parks have till today not completed their process of enquiry and settlement of rights.
- As the Tiger Task Force of the Government of India put it, “in the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme.” Hence, this was law necessary.