Report National Committee on Forest Rights Act
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, popularly known as the Forests Rights Act (FRA), was enacted in 2007 through the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to correct the ‘historic injustice done to forest-dwelling communities’. These communities were cultivating /occupying forest land and using forest produce since ages but had no tenurial security. Broadly speaking, this Act recognizes and vests individual forest-dwellers with forest rights to live in and cultivate forest land that was occupied before 13 Dec 2005 and grants community forest rights to manage, protect, regenerate the forest under section 3(1)(i) and to own and dispose minor forest products from forests where they had traditional access.
Many states and Union Territories (UTs) which have such forest dwelling communities started implementing FRA immediately after the notification of the FRA Rules on 1st January 2008, generally through their Departments of Tribal /Social Welfare. The Union Ministry of Tribal affairs has been regularly monitoring the progress of implementation, issuing clarifications and updating the latest figures on its website every month. The implementation of this Act has thrown up a number of issues, ranging from concerns about how committees have been constituted and about high rates of claim rejections to how exactly forest governance would take place after community forest rights are recognized. In April 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs jointly constituted a 20 member committee to look at the various issues relating to the implementation of the FRA and sustainable forest management.
The key TOR of the Committee include:
* study in detail the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 including factors that are aiding and impeding its implementation,
* recommend necessary policy changes in the future management of the forestry sector in India which may be necessary as a consequence of implementation of the Act,
* identify the role of various agencies (official and others) in facilitating forest-dwellers carrying out their roles regarding conservation and management of forests,
* define a new role for the Forest Department vis a vis the Gram Sabha for forest conservation and regeneration, and
* identify opportunities for and recommend measures to ensure convergence of various beneficiary oriented programmes for the forest rights holders taken up by various line departments in the states. The committee deliberated on the issues of the TOR in 6 sittings, and through continuous internal discussions over e-mail.
Sub-groups of the committee conducted intensive field visits and public consultations covering 17 states of the country and gathered first hand information by interacting with tribal communities, other traditional forest dwellers, civil society organizations, NGOs, State government officials, academics, and local leaders. Further, in order to maintain transparency of the committee activities, a publicly accessible website was created where minutes of meetings, field trip reports, and other documents were posted. The overall finding of the Committee is that, with notable exceptions, the implementation of the FRA has been poor, and therefore its potential to achieve livelihood security and changes in forest governance along with strengthening of forest conservation, has hardly been achieved.
Specific findings and recommendations are summarised below under the following themes:
• Implementation of FRA: Process and institutions
• Implementation of FRA: Individual Forest Rights
• Implementation of FRA: Community Forest Rights
• Implementation of FRA: Implementation of Development Projects
• Implementation for Special Groups
• Protected Areas and Critical Wildlife Habitats
• Future Structure of Forest Governance
• Enhancing Livelihoods through NTFPs
• Convergence of Development Programmes for STs and OTFDs