Sunday, December 22, 2013

On Forest Rights

3:00 AM

(Words: 2172)

Chakresh Singh

On Forest Rights

(a report):

During the colonial rule, forest dwellers and nomads were seen as criminals. No attempt was made to recognize their legitimate rights and save them from the exploitation of industrial firms which were set up in or near forest and affected the lives of those who had to depend on forests for their livelihood.

Post independence, need was felt to judiciously use our natural resources for attaining self-reliance. But sadly, it took a long time to enact such a ‘landmark law’. The law aims at addressing the injustices done to the Forest Dwellers. Many a times, these people have faced evictions and termed as encroachers or even naxalites by the forest authorities. Ironically, contractors and industry firms have got enough support of the bureaucracy when it comes to their rights in forests.

The Indian Forces Act, 1927, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; all were premised on the conception that human interference in forest area would lead to destruction. The National Forest Policy, 1988, challenged this traditional view and considered the ‘forest-dwelling communities’ as primary stakeholders in forests who had to be involved in the conservation process.

The National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA, advanced in 2004, before the formation of the government at the Centre gave expression to this aspiration
Many states have seen local resistance movements against many projects. Jharkhand, for example, saw the rise of many NGOs and coordination committees backed by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, CPI(M) and CPI(ML). Mining has been the major cause of evictions from forests in Jharkhand. When the State was created, the government signed 42 MoUs with global investors and approximately 48,000 acres of land was estimated to be required for all the projects.

Also see: Recent Article on Niyamgiri:

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2008

  • In short, referred to as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), was brought forward to address the historic injustice done to the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes.
  • The Act recognizes and vests forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditionally forest-dwellers.
  • “Other traditionally forest-dwellers” will comprise of families that have been living in forest and have depended on forest for their bona-fide livelihoods for at least three generations (base line date in 13th December 2005). A “generation” for this purpose would mean 25 years.
  • The Act provides for ceiling on occupation of forest land for the purpose of recognition of forest rights to the area under actual occupation and in no case exceeding 4 hectares.
  • The Act also recognizes the right to use, collect and dispose minor forest products which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries.
  • FRA provides for adequate protection for ‘critical wildlife habitats’. (see Section 4 of the Act)
  • The rights thus provided, will be inheritable but not transferable or alienable.


Several NGOs and lobbyists expressed concerns which ranged from adverse effect of human population in forests on the dwindling tiger population, irrational distribution of forest land to tribal families and drastic effect on the pulp industry.

A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was set up to consider such and more concerns.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Amendment Rules, 2012
  • The Act recognizes and vests forest rights and occupation of forest land with Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. These rights include the right to collect and sell minor forest produce and the right to live in the forest land for habitation or self-cultivation for livelihood, etc.
  • The amending Rules introduce the process to be followed by the Gram Sabha and district level committee, the process for the recognition of rights and amends certain definitions. Some of the key amendments include: 
  • Gram Sabha:ƒ The Gram Sabha shall monitor the committee constituted for the protection of wildlife, forest and biodiversity. It has to approve all decisions of the committee pertaining to the issue of transit permits to transport minor forest produce, use of income from sale of produce, or modification of management plans. The collection of minor forest produce is to be free of all fees. The committee has to prepare a conservation and management plan for community forest resources.
  • ƒThe Forest Rights Committee (FRC) of the Gram Sabha shall not reexamine recognised forest rights or interfere in the verification of claims that are pending.
  • ƒThe number of Scheduled Tribes represented on the FRC has increased from one-third to two-thirds. The quorum of the Gram Sabha meeting has been decreased from two thirds to one-half of the members. At-least one-third of the members present shall be women. While passing a resolution regarding the claims of forest rights, at-least 50 per cent of the claimants to forest rights or their representatives should be present.
State level monitoring committee
The committee should meet at-least once in three months to monitor the recognition, verification and vesting of forest rights, and furnish a quarterly report to the central government.

Bonafide livelihood needs’ refers to the fulfillment of livelihood needs (earlier sustenance needs). These can be fulfilled through the sale of surplus produce.

Finally, My Views

While a lot has been done, a lot needs to be done. With more and more computerization of data available with various ministries and forest offices, it will become more feasible to identify the forest dwellers. Efforts have to be made for in-situ rehabilitation of people who have been living in forests or have depended on forest for their livelihood for centuries. The National Forest Policy, 1988 rightly identifies the need of considering the forest dwellers and primary stakeholders in forest conservation.

The Forest Officials need to be trained from time to time to make them more humane towards the tribal population. The officials are seen as foreigners who displace the poor people from their home lands and tag them as encroachers. Such distrust and hatred against the public authorities can create many long term problems. There is a need of more engagement with the locals to reduce friction.

Any law aimed at addressing historic injustices will always face the difficulty of identifying the injustices and those who have faced them. Grievance-redressal becomes more difficult when we are talking about forest dwellers as many of them are nomads and do not stay at any place for a long time.

Recognition of Forest Rights of Forest Dwelling population is a step stone towards attaining true inclusiveness in India. In future we can make holistic schemes, targeted at education, health and security of these people.

Such affirmative steps will help in bringing down menace like Naxalism and help improve the internal security situation in some ways.

The concern of those who oppose such legislation is not totally unfounded. There are instances of people encroaching in forest area and irreparable doing damages to the natural resources of the country. But we will have to start some where.


Related Issues:

Approval of developmental project in forest areas

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has diverted 1,133,123 hectare for “non-forest purposes” from 1980 to 2006.

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010:

"An Act to provide for the establishment of a National Green Tribunal for the effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources including enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto".

The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.

During the Rio De Janeiro summit of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in June 1992, India vowed the participating states to provide judicial and administrative remedies for the victims of the pollutants and other environmental damage.

There lie many reasons behind the setting up of this tribunal.

In recent news reports there have been deliberations on whether there is a possibility of appealing a central government decision on forest clearances.  In this context, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed states to comply with the statutory requirement of passing an order notifying diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.  It has also held that it can hear appeals from the orders of state governments and other authorities on forest clearances.

The NGT was established in 2010 to deal with cases relating to environmental protection, and conservation of forests and other natural resources.  The need was felt to have a mechanism to hear appeals filed by aggrieved citizens against government orders on forest clearances.  For instance, the NGT can hear appeals against an order of the appellate authority, state government or pollution control board under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

How is a forest clearance obtained?

Obtaining a forest clearance is a key step in the process of setting up a project.  Recently the Chhatrasal coal mine allotted to Reliance Power’s 4,000 MW Sasan thermal power project in Madhya Pradesh has received forest clearance.  The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) first gives ‘in-principle’ approval to divert forest land for non-forest purposes based on the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee.  This approval is subject to the project developer complying with certain conditions.  Once these conditions are complied with, the central government issues the final clearance.  It is only after this clearance that the state government passes an order notifying the diversion of forest land.  The NGT’s decision deals with this point in the process during which an appeal can be filed against the order of forest clearance.  For the flowchart put out by the MoEF on the procedure for obtaining a forest clearance, see here:

What was the NGT’s ruling on forest clearances?

The NGT was hearing an appeal against a forest clearance given by the MoEF to divert 61 hectares of forest land for a hydroelectric project by GMR in Uttarakhand.  The NGT has ruled that it does not have the jurisdiction to hear appeals against forest clearances given to projects by the MoEF.  However, the NGT has the power to hear appeals on an order or decision made by a state government or other authorities under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.  The judgment observed that though Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 requires that state governments pass separate orders notifying the diversion of land, this requirement is not being followed.  The NGT has directed that state governments pass a reasoned order notifying the diversion of the forest land for non-forest purposes, immediately after the central government has given its clearance.  This will allow aggrieved citizens to challenge the forest clearance of a project after the state government has passed an order.  Additionally, the NGT has also directed the MoEF to issue a notification streamlining the procedure to be adopted by state governments and other authorities for passing orders granting forest clearance under section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

There are some concerns that an appeal to the NGT can only be made after the state government has passed an order notifying the diversion of forest land and significant resources have been invested in the project.

What is the status of applications for forest clearances made to the MoEF?

The MoEF has given approval to 1126 proposals that involve the diversion of 15,639 hectares of forest land from July 13, 2011 to July 12, 2012.  The category of projects accorded the most number of approvals was road projects (308) followed by transmission lines (137).  Some of the other categories of projects that received clearance for a significant number of projects were mining, hydel and irrigation projects.  However, most land was diverted for mining related projects i.e., 40% of the total forest land diverted in this period.  Figure 1 shows a break up of the extent of forest land diverted for various categories of projects.  The number of forest clearances pending for decision by the MoEF for applications made in the years 2012, 2011 and 2010 are 197, 129 and 48 respectively. 

Source: “Environmental Clearance accorded from 13.07.2011 to 12.07.2012”, October 12, 2012, MoEF.

1 comment:

chakresh singh said...

Thanks for making a comment. I will keep the suggestions in my mind next time.

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