By Shahid Ul Islam Wani
The Scheduled Tribes and Other
Traditional Forest Dwellers (
Forest Rights Act) Act, 2006 is in force in J&K from November 2020.It became applicable to J&K only after 31st October, 2019, hence, recognising the rights of forest dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory. The process of identification process for individual as well as community forest rights is going on.
The process has been made pretty difficult by Forest department which is unfortunately also Nodal department for implementation of Forest Rights Act.
The Forest department is asking for documents if any of the land from the claimants, which is completely uncalled for and if any document of the land isn’t found the claims are there and then rejected. This is my personal experience after talking to two Block Forest Officers as well as few FRC Chairmans. The FRA introduces itself as,
“Act to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling
Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for
generations but whose rights could not be recorded. “
The law clearly mentions that the land should be essentially forest land and how could one manage documents of land.
The ground staff of forest department needs to be informed about this definition so that
recognition of rights becomes hassel free and those deserving get their due share.
The other issue being propped up on ground by forest department is that those claimants who own have revenue land and are residing on it,can’t get benefits under the Forest Rights Act. The law doesn’t discriminate like this and there is no mention in law about this issue instead FAQ section about FRA avaliable on Ministry of Tribal Affairs website states as,
A. What is the meaning of the phrase “primarily resided in forests or forest land” with regard to eligibility of OTFDs for recognition and vesting of forest rights under FRA? for recognition and vesting of forest rights under FRA?
The phrase “primarily resided in forest or forest land” does not mean occupation. Proof of residence in the forests for 75 years where claim has been filed and current dependence on forest land will suffice for being considered as OTFD. It was clarified by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in Circular dated 9.06.2008
No.17014/02/2007-PC&V(Vol.VII), that the phrase “primarily resided in” means:
“such Scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who are not necessarily residing inside the forest but are depending on the forest for their bona fide livelihood needs would be covered under the definition of ‘forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes’ and ‘other traditional forest dweller’ as given in Sections 2(c)
and 2(o) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.”
It is important to state that it is not necessary that exercise of forest rights for 75 years without interruption be proved. This would be an extremely onerous burden of proof on a claimant, and is not the intention under law.
B. What is the status under FRA of grazing rights of pastoralist/nomadic communities, when such communities are residing in revenue lands, and not “primarily residing” in forests?
Merely residing in revenue lands is not a disqualification from eligibility under the FRA, as long as the
lands on which grazing rights are sought are forest lands.
Forest department employees are also claiming that those house holds who have one of its members in government service cant be covered under FRA, which is completely wrong. Since FRA in itself is silent about it,the FAQ section explains this in detail as,
A. Can a State Government provide that persons holding any permanent or Government job shall not be eligible as Other Traditional Forest Dwellers?
There is no provision in the law that states that the forest dwellers should be solely or even primarily dependent on the forests for their livelihood, or for disqualifying persons whose family income is derived from a basket of sources. There is every likelihood that a family may be depending for its livelihood needs both on the forest rights, as well as supplement their family income through a Government job or salaried income. In fact, there are many families where one or more adult member has a salaried job requiring him to live in an urban area, while the other family members reside in the village and are sustained through intricate and sustainable relationships with the forests and forest produce.
B. Where one spouse works as a Government servant, while the rest of the family resides in the village, is
such family eligible for making a claim under FRA?
Many situations may arise where one spouse works as a Government servant or in a salaried job, while the other spouse along with other members of the family resides in the village. It would be contrary to the letter and spirit of FRA to deny forest rights to such families, merely because one of the spouses has
seized such opportunity. It is for this reason that the FRA contains no statutory bar on recognition of forest rights of such claimants, if they are able to satisfy the other eligibility criteria.
Nor does the FRA restrict the recognition of forest rights to ‘family’. A claimant can be an individual, a family, a community, or a Gram Sabha. Just because one member of the family is disqualified
as a forest dweller, does not mean other members who meet the eligibility criteria cannot claim their rights.
The other major area of intrest is that the various types of Medicinal and herbal plants which are commonly found in our forest fall under, “Community Forest resources” or minor forest produce but the Forest rights committees haven’t been Sensitised about this provision of the Forest Rights Act. Forest department has been out sourcing this job to contractor’s but why should not the residents of particular panchayat enjoy these benefit so that there income as well as income of panchayat gets enhanced.
The forest department needs to either implement this law as envisaged and desired by Parliament or should declare once for all that their are not any eligible claimants without troubling the common masses. Of late if some little benefit the people would have enjoyed under FRA, are being denied under one or other pretext which is complete injustice.Govt departments involved in implementation of FRA should facilitate in a manner which is in sync with spirit of Law and for forest department FRA supersedes Forest Act 1927 for the larger benefit of communities living in and around forests.
The author can be mailed at Shahidwani619@gmail.com and kupwaratimes.com doesn’t depict it