- 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.
- 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: 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.
- The Forest Rights Committee (FRC) of the Gram Sabha shall not reexamine recognised forest rights or interfere in the verification of claims that are pending.
- The 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.
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.