Topic: An inquiry into the status of implementation of Forest Rights Act (2006) after 10 years of its enactment
Historically, the control/governance of India’s forests had been vested directly under the government which ignored the rights and entitlement of over 150 million tribals and forest dwellers dependent on forest resources across the country. The forests which are critical for the lives, livelihood and survival of these forest dwellers, have been providing them with food, work/livelihood related to NTFP collection and sale, medicines, firewood, supplies for home, spiritual uses etc. This aspect and also the control over land have put the forest dwellers into long-term conflict with the forest department and the government at large. Over the years, this conflict has often resulted in eviction, dispossession, exploitation and displacement of these communities from their resource rich land, especially due to the government’s focus on economic development model.
The enactment of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 has been hailed by many as an emancipatory law which upheld the rights and entitlements of these marginalised communities. The most important aspect of this act has been the recognition of the communities’ rights over their forests and natural resources which they have traditionally accessed and also the right to manage, used, protect and conserve their habitat/forests. The recognition of these rights shifted the governance and conservation of the forests to the communities from the state, gave the forest dwellers a means to slow down or stop the process of forest conversion by government/private parties, and also enhanced their food security.
However, in the decade post the enactment of the law, the government seems to have done little to implement the law in its true spirit. The reason seems to be multiple including: lack of awareness of the law or the roles and responsibilities of various state departments in implementation of the law, lack of awareness at the community level of their rights, continued conflict with forest department over control of forest land, and conflict over land acquisition due to government’s push for mining and various other infrastructure projects etc. Even in states or region where FRA has been implemented with some success, it has been largely through the efforts of the civil society and movements. In many other cases, success has been achieved after years of struggle. An overview of the status of its implementation in the country seems to suggest that the government has been deliberate in its attempt at not recognising the rights of the tribals and other forest dwellers.
Despite the historical importance of the Act, even after a decade it has not been able to do justice to the rights of the forest dwellers which it had set out to do. The tribals and other forest dwellers continue to be face exclusion from their land and forests, exploitation at the hand of government and private agencies and threatened with eviction or dislocation from their ancestral home.
Independent People’s Tribunal:
The Independent People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights was constituted in June 1993 with the aim to investigate violations of human rights and environmental justice in a fair and transparent way. The IPT hopes to provide a platform to affected communities, grassroot organisations, networks and movements to voice their issues and also a mechanism for seeking redressal and policy change.
The current IPT’s mandate is to understand and analyse the reasons behind the lack of implementation and hence violations of the Forest Rights Act. The objectives of the IPT are as follows:
- Identify and analyse the various violations that are happening across the states on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, whether they are procedural or structural in nature.
- The direct and indirect impact its non-implementation would have/had on the communities.
- Assess the status of FRA thereof
- Field visit by panel (will not be a part in the FRA-IPT)
- Situational analysis presented by experts
- Presentation of cases of violations in the implementation of FRA from various states: The case studies would be representative of key issues related to indigenous communities and FRA in each state and cover Individual Forest Rights (IFR), Community Forest Rights (CFR) and Community Forest Resource Rights (CFRe). Focus will largely be on
- Presentation of cases of success in implementation of FRA which highlights the struggles that civil society and communities have undertaken to get their rights
- Counter views/ views from government departments, private agencies
- Panel constituting of retired judges, academician, media representatives, lawyers etc. to hear the cases, views and come out with an interim judgement
- Publishing of the final report
- CFR – Learning and Advocacy Process
- Grassroot NGOs
Questions for civil society in preparation of the IPT:
- What is the current status in the implementation of FRA in each state – how much has its implementation been state driven versus civil society led?
- What are the key issues that are impacting the implementation (or the lack) of FRA in each state?
- How much of the non-implementation cases procedural versus systemic/issue based in nature?
- In cases of successful implementation, how many have been movement/community/NGO led?