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India’s Forest Rights Act
In late 2006, India enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. This was the culmination of decades of demands by indigenous and tribal communities scattered across India, and several years of lively and often heated debate on the merits and demerits of such legislation.
The Forest Rights Act (to use its convenient short form) provides for a series of rights for scheduled tribes (which are listed in India’s constitution) and other traditional forest-dwelling communities over land that they have occupied for cultivation or residence, and also over forest produce and traditional knowledge. It gives legal empowerment to communities to manage and protect forests that they have traditionally managed in a de facto manner.
Since it was first proposed, the Forest Rights Act has generated very heated and acrimonious debate over its social and ecological implications. In particular, a number of conservationists have been vociferously opposed to it, claiming that it will be the death-knell of India’s forests and wildlife. Many social activists on the other hand feel that it will not only provide the basic rights that forest-dwelling communities should have been granted decades back, but will also lead to enhanced conservation of forests. A number of groups and individuals have taken more of a ‘middle path’, pointing out that several provisions of the Act could favor conservation while others could lead to deforestation, and that the benefits accruing to forest-dwellers from the Act could be substantial in some places, peripheral in others. How precisely the Act will play out is going to depend on a number of policy and ground-level factors, including the level of mobilization and cohesion of forest-dwelling communities in a particular area, the sensitivity of government officials administering the Act, the ecological fragility of the area, and so on.
Tracking the Impacts of the Act
Given that this Act has the potential to change the face of forest management, use, and conservation across the country, it is vital that there be some systematic tracking and analysis of its implementation. Kalpavriksh, a prominent Indian NGO will take on this task with support from RRI. Kalpavriksh is undertaking the following activities:
- Tracking the further development of the Act at the national level, e.g. the framing of subsidiary Rules and guidelines, or moves to amend specific provisions;
- Collating information on state-level development of the Act, e.g. framing guidelines specific to the state’s own situation, or the creation of state-level implementation mechanisms;
- Assessing the impacts of the Act at some specific sites, in particular a few protected areas (where the potential for conflict and also complementarity with wildlife/forest laws is greatest) and important forest areas;
- Raising alerts regarding the misuse or misapplication of the Act, e.g. using it to encourage further encroachments into forests in the hope that they will be regularized under the Act, or conversely, the denial of legitimate rights to weaker sections of communities;
- Feeding information on all these aspects to relevant civil society networks, e.g. the Future of Conservation network that a number of conservation and human rights groups have initiated, and LISTSERVs such as “forestrights” and “nathistory”;
- Providing inputs to policymakers, based on the findings from the above, with the aim of improving the Act’s provisions and implementation in a way that serves both conservation and livelihood security.
The full text of the Forest Rights Act is available here.
Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group Newsletter, "Tracking the Forest Rights Act"
Posted By Arvind Khare at 8:30am on March 21, 2008
Posted By SG on March 05, 2009 at 05:08
Those interested in the Forest Rights Act may also wish to consult http://www.forestrightsact.com
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