The Supreme Court has suspended the implementation of its controversial order directing states to evict around 2 million forest-dwellers from forests after the tribal affairs ministry pointed out that process of settling their claims and rights left a lot to be desired.
SC asked all states to submit detailed information that would allow the bench to examine whether the due process was followed; whether tribals got a fair opportunity to present their claims; and also file appeals against the rejection of their claims. The court demanded to know if state governments had followed the due process in issuing eviction orders against those whose claims were rejected.
The court also sought sample rejection orders amid complaints that most were non-speaking orders, that is, they did not give any reasons justifying the order.
Earlier, the court heard petitions challenging the validity of the Forest Rights Act. The petitioners had demanded that those whose claims over traditional forest lands are rejected under the new law should be evicted.
The bench had earlier passed an order asking states to begin evicting these forest dwellers after states said they were not able to establish their traditional rights over these lands.
The order came on a PIL which had challenged the validity of the Forest Rights Act 2006 which sought to recognise the traditional rights of all those who had lived in forests for three generations before Dec 31, 2005.
The bench slammed the central government for failing to speak up earlier on the loopholes in the implementation of the Act which led to states to identifying such huge numbers for eviction.
Forest Rights Act, 2006
It seeks to rectify colonial injustice to the Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.
The act recognizes and vest the forest rights and occupation in Forest land in FDST and OTFD who have been residing in such forests for generations.
The act also establishes the responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance of FDST and OTFD.
It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST and OTFD.
The act identifies four types of rights:
- Title rights – It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land 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 and no new lands will be granted.
- Use rights – The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, 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 – It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
Issues faced by FRA, 2006
- Administrative Apathy – Implementation remains the biggest challenge as various environmental Acts are not entirely compliant with the law. Illegal encroachments by outsiders and unfair rejection of claims have happened.
- Lack of Awareness – Forest bureaucracy has misinterpreted the FRA as an instrument to regularise encroachment instead of a welfare measure for tribals. Also there is lack of awareness at the lower level of forest officials and majority of the aggrieved population too remains in the dark regarding their rights.
- Dilution of Act – FRA bend more in the favour of individual rights, giving lesser scope for community rights. Community Rights effectively gives the local people the control over forest resources which remains a significant portion of forest revenue making states wary of vesting forest rights to Gram Sabha.
- Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control – The forest bureaucracy fears that it will lose the enormous power over land and people that it currently enjoys.
- Institutional Roadblock – Rough mapsof community and individual claims are prepared by Gram Sabha which at times often lack technical knowhow and suffers from educational incapacity.
- Intensive process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA makes the process both cumbersome and harrowing for illiterate tribals.
Large-scale awareness and information dissemination campaigns are required at local level informing both tribal and lower level officials.
Develop a detailed strategy of training and capacity building of people responsible for implementing the FRA especially Gram Sabha and Panchayats.
The relevant maps and documents should be made available to the Forest Rights committee and claimants to simplify the task of the Gram Sabha in identifying and filing claims for individual and community rights.
Providing clarity on the time limit for settling claims the act does not specify any time limit for resolving claims. In most of the areas, both the officials and beneficiaries are unaware of this fact.
Centre should take more proactive role in pushing states to honour a law that could change the lives of millions.
The Centre argues that the rejection of claims is particularly high in the States hit by Left-Wing Extremism, where tribal population is high. So, implementing FRA and giving right to Minor Forest Produce to these forest dwellers will not only do justice but also act as medicine to issues of LWE problem.