Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Over 85% Claims have been Disposed of Under Forest Rights Act.

Government of India
Government has disposed of 31, 06,690  claims by the end of Dec-2013 out of 36,54,420 claims filed under Scheduled  Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act -2006, commonly known as Forest Rights Act (FRA). 

This is 85.01% of the total claims filed under the Act. Out of the claims disposed off, 14,18,078 titles (13,95,647 individual titles and 22,431 community titles) have been distributed and 15,867 titles are ready for distribution. Highest number of 3,28,580 titles have been issued in Odisha and titles for largest forest area of 10,81,426.65 acres have been issued in Madhya Pradesh.  

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs is the nodal agency for implementing the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. The Act seeks to recognize and vest the Forest Rights and Rights for  occupation of forest land on 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.

Forest dwellers are among the country’s poorest people. For many tribal people and other forest communities, forests are the source of livelihood, identity, customs and traditions. However, their rights on their ancestral land and their habitats has not been adequately recognized   despite these being integral to their very survival and sustainability of the forest eco-system.

This historical injustice needed correction and, therefore the Government enacted the Forest Rights Act. The Act came into operation with the notification of Rules on 01-01-2008 for carrying out the provisions of the Act.

The Act also goes beyond the “ recognition’ of Forest Rights and also empowers the forest rights holders, Gram Sabhas and local level institutions with the right to protect, regenerate, conserve and manage any community forest resource. 

(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;
(b)   Community rights such as nistar, by whatever name called, including those used in erstwhile Princely States, Zamindari or such intermediary regimes.
(c)    Right of ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries;
(d)   Other community rights of uses or entitlements such as fish and other products of water bodies, grazing (both settled or transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities;
(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 conversion of Pattas or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any State Government on forest lands to titles;
(h)    Rights of settlements and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, unsurveyed villages  and other villages in forest, whether recorded, notified or not into revenue villages;
(i)      Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use;
(j)     Rights which are recognized under any State law or laws of any Autonomous District Council or Autonomous Regional Council or which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State;
(k)   Right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity;
(l)      Any other traditional right customarily enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers, as the case may be, which are not mentioned in clause (a) to (k) but excluding the traditional right  of hunting or trapping or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal;
(m)  Right to in situ 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 entitlement to rehabilitation prior to the 13thDecember, 2005.

Some of the major concerns regarding implementation of the Act were related to non-recognition of un-hindered absolute rights over the minor forest produce (MFP) to forest dwellers; imposition of several restrictions, like transit permit for transportation of MFPs, levy of fees, charges, royalties on sale of MFPs, exclusion of certain types of MFPs in contravention of the definition of MFP given in the Act; continuance of monopoly of the State Agency in the trade of MFP, especially in the case of high value MFP,such as, tendupatta, non-recognition of some community rights, such as  nistar rights, conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, unsurveyed villages and other villages in forest,  whether recorded, notified or not, into revenue villages; non-recognition of community forest resource rights relating to protection, regeneration or conservation, or management of any community forest resources.

In order to address the above concerns and to ensure effective implementation of the Act the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has undertaken vigorous exercise to arrive at certain   provisions/steps which would facilitate robust implementation of the Act and based on the said exercise the Ministry has issued comprehensive guidelines to the States for better implementation of the Act.
The Ministry has also notified the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Amendment Rules, and sent the Amended rules to all the States,/UTs for initiating necessary action as per the Amended Rules, on priority.

The Amended Rules, notified by the Ministry provide inter alia for 
(i) identification of hamlets or settlements and process of their consolidation for holding Gram Sabha meetings, 
(ii)  disposal of minor forest produce within and outside forest area through appropriate means of transport, 
(iii) modification of the transit permit regime in relation to transportation of minor forest produce and issue of the transit permit by a Committee constituted by the Gram Sabha or the person authorized by Gram Sabha, 
(iv) making the collection of the minor forest produce free of all royalties or fees or any other charges, 
(v) convening of the quarterly meeting of the State Level Monitoring Committee for monitoring the process of recognition, verification and vesting of forest rights and addressing the field level problems, (vi) recognition of the individual and community rights, etc.
The Amended Rules notified by the Ministry also contain provisions for post claim support and hand holding to holders of forest rights and provide that the State Government shall ensure, through its departments especially tribal and social welfare, environment and forest, revenue, rural development, panchayati raj and other departments relevant to upliftment of forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers, that all government schemes including those relating to land improvement, land productivity, basic amenities and other livelihood measures are provided to such claimants and communities whose rights have been recognized and vested under the Act.

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