Rights of Forest-Dwellers in India

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Background (Context of the Article)
  • About FRA (Objectives, Rights, Eligibility, Gram Sabha, etc.)
  • New Notification by Thanthai Periyar Sanctuary (Details, Implementation of FRA by TN)

Background

  • Earlier this month, the notification of the Thanthai Periyar Sanctuary in Erode district of Tamil Nadu triggered concerns among forest-dwellers around it.
  • They expressed fear that this may lead to their rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) being denied.
  • They have accused the district and State administrations of violating relevant laws.
  • The Thanthai Periyar Sanctuary is located between the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve of Tamil Nadu, the Male Mahadeshwara Wildlife Sanctuary and the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary of Karnataka.
  • Six tribal forest villages — denied basic rights and facilities because these are not revenue villages — have been excluded from the sanctuary.
  • These settlements are confined to an arbitrary area of 3.42 sq. km.

About Forest Rights Act, 2006

  • The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.
  • Objectives:
    • To undo the historical injustice occurred to the forest dwelling communities.
    • To ensure land tenure, livelihood and food security of the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
    • To strengthen the conservation regime of the forests by including the responsibilities and authority on Forest Rights holders for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance.

What Rights Do Forest Dwellers Get Under the Act?

  • The Forest Rights Act, 2006 recognises three types of Rights:
    • Land Rights:
      • The Act gives the forest dwellers the right to ownership to land farmed by them, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares per family.
      • Ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands can be granted.
      • The land cannot be sold or transferred to anyone except by inheritance.
    • Use Rights:
      • The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce (such as tendu patta, herbs, medicinal plants etc.), grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
      • Minor forest produce does not include timber.
    • Right to Protect and Conserve:
      • The Act gives the forest dwelling communities the right to protect and manage the forest.
      • This is vital for the thousands of village communities who are protecting their forests and wildlife against threats from forest mafias, industries and land grabbers.

Who Can Claim These Rights?

  • Members or community of the Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs.
  • It can also be claimed by any member or community who has for at least three generations (75 years) prior to 13th December, 2005 primarily resided in forests land for bona fide livelihood needs.

How Are These Rights Recognised?

  • Section 6 of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 provides a transparent three step procedure for deciding on who gets rights:
    • Step-1: Gram Sabha makes a recommendation – i.e. who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce to be collected, etc.
    • Step-2: The Gram Sabha’s recommendation goes through two stages of screening committees at the Taluka and District levels.
    • Step-3: The District Level Committee makes the final decision. The committees have six members – three government officers and three elected persons.

About Gram Sabha

  • Gram Sabha is a body consisting of all persons whose names are included in the electoral rolls for the Panchayat at the village level.
  • The term is defined in the Constitution of India under Article 243(b).

What Are the Rights in the Thanthai Periyar Sanctuary?

  • As per the new notification, cattle-grazers can no longer graze in the Thanthai Periyar Sanctuary.
  • Bargur cattle, a traditional breed native to the Bargur forest hills, may now be prevented from accessing their traditional grazing grounds.
  • In March 2022, the Madras High Court revised an older order imposing a total ban on cattle grazing in all the forests of Tamil Nadu and restricted the ban to national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves.
  • Tamil Nadu is the only State in the country where there is such a ban.
  • This order is despite the FRA, which recognised “grazing (both settled or transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities” in all forests.

Q1) What do you mean by Protected Forest?

A protected forest is land that is a reserved forest, and over which the government has property rights, as declared by a state government under section 29 of the Forest Act 1927.

Q2) What do you mean by Minor Forest Produce?

Minor Forest Produce (MFP) is all non-timber forest produce of plant origin and includes bamboo, brushwood, stumps, canes, Tusser, cocoon, honey, waxes, Lac, tendu/kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tuber and the like.


Source: Community rights and forest conservation | Explained