Forest rights and heritage conservation
Why in News?
- After the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) invoked its constitutional power to requisition detailed Forest Rights Act implementation reports from the Supreme Court, the Registrar has ordered the release of documents to the NCST.
About the News:
- The ST Commission is caught in a row with the Union Environment Ministry over the latest Forest Conservation Rules (FCR), 2022.
- The row is over the potential violation of provisions enshrined in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 dubbed the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
What are the rules, the Act and how is NCST involved?
- The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in June 2022, notified the Forest (Conservation) Rules, 2022, which prescribed the mechanism for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. These amended rules have omitted a clause (present in 2014 and 2017 Rules) that explicitly required any proposal to mandatorily have the consent of local tribes people and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) of the area, before proceeding for Stage 1 clearance.
- The FCR, 2022 has allowed applying entities to go for the consent of locals, represented by the Gram Sabha, after Stage 1 or even after Stage 2 clearance.
- Within two months of the FCR, 2022 coming into force, the NCST constituted a “Working Group on the Forest Rights Act 2006 & other issues related to the Forest and Scheduled Tribes” to monitor the implementation of the FRA and “make recommendations to the Union government and State governments”.
- The NCST concluded that the new FCR infringed on the rights of STs and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) by violating the FRA.
- According to the FRA, 2006, in case of a dispute over forest land, precedence has to be given to the rights of STs and OTFDs, who live in and off the forest and its resources, over any other party
What is a community forest resource?
- It is the common forest land that has been traditionally protected and conserved for sustainable use by a particular community.
- The community uses it to access resources available within the traditional and customary boundary of the village; and for seasonal use of landscape in case of pastoralist communities.
Community Forest Resource rights:
- These rights are recognised under Section 3(1)(i) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (commonly referred to as the Forest Rights Act or the FRA).
- They provide for recognition of the right to “protect, regenerate or conserve or manage” the community forest resource.
- These rights allow the community to formulate rules for forest use by itself and others and thereby discharge its responsibilities under Section 5 of the FRA.
Significance of these rights and their recognition:
- CFR rights, along with Community Rights (CRs) which include nistar rights and rights over non-timber forest products, ensure sustainable livelihoods of the community.
- These rights give the authority to the Gram Sabha to adopt local traditional practices of forest conservation and management within the community forest resource boundary.
- It also underlines the integral role that forest dwellers play in sustainability of forests and in conservation of biodiversity.
About Forest Rights Act (FRA):
- The act was passed in December 2006. It deals with the rights of forest-dwelling communities over land and other resources. 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, 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 sabhas, 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 taluk) 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.