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J&K tribal population to get their due: Forest Rights Act

Context:

After a long delay, the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which will elevate the socio-economic status of a sizeable section of the 14-lakh-strong population of tribals and nomadic communities, including Gujjar-Bakerwals and Gaddi-Sippis, in the Union Territory.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues Related to SCs & STs, Management of Social Sector/Services, Government Policies and Interventions), Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Forest Rights Act, 2006
  2. Challenges in implementation of the Forest Right Act
  3. About the tribal communities in focus

Forest Rights Act, 2006

  • Schedule Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers Act or Recognition of Forest Rights Act came into force in 2006. The Nodal Ministry for the Act is Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
  • It has been enacted to recognize and vest the forest rights and occupation of 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.
  • This Act not only recognizes the rights to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood, but also grants several other rights to ensure their control over forest resources.
  • The Act also provides for diversion of forest land for public utility facilities managed by the Government, such as schools, dispensaries, fair price shops, electricity and telecommunication lines, water tanks, etc. with the recommendation of Gram Sabhas.
  • Rights under the Forest Right Act 2006:
    1. Title Rights- ownership of land being framed by Gram Sabha.
    2. Forest management rights– to protect forests and wildlife.
    3. Use rights- for minor forest produce, grazing, etc.
    4. Rehabilitation– in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement.
    5. Development Rights– to have basic amenities such as health, education, etc.

Challenges in implementation of the Forest Right Act

  • Adivasi lands in Jammu and Kashmir have not been protected, nor have these communities been given ownership rights. Instead, evictions of Adivasis have intensified in the last few years.
  • A series of legislation– amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act and a host of amendments to the Rules to the FRA- undermine the rights and protections given to tribal in the FRA, including the condition of “free informed consent” from gram Sabhas for any government plans to remove tribal from the forests and for the resettlement or rehabilitation package.
  • The process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA is intensive — rough maps of community and individual claims are prepared democratically by Gram Sabhas. These are then verified on the ground with annotated evidence, before being submitted to relevant authorities.
  • There is a reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control with FRA being seen as an instrument to regularise encroachment. This is seen in its emphasis on recognising individual claims while ignoring collective claims — Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights as promised under the FRA — by tribal communities. To date, the total amount of land where rights have been recognised under the FRA is just 3.13 million hectares, mostly under claims for individual occupancy rights.
  • In almost all States, instead of Gram Sabhas, the Forest Department has either appropriated or been given effective control over the FRA’s rights recognition process. This has created a situation where the officials controlling the implementation of the law often have the strongest interest in its non-implementation, especially the community forest rights provisions, which dilute or challenge the powers of the forest department.
  • Saxena Committee pointed out several problems in the implementation of FRA. Wrongful rejections of claims happen due to lack of proper enquiries made by the officials.

About the tribal communities in focus

Gujjar-Bakerwals:

  • Gujjars and Bakerwals are listed as Scheduled Tribes in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • They inhabit the high mountain ranges of Jammu and Kashmir. They are a nomadic tribe and seasonally migrate from one place to another with their sheep and goat herds.  They travel higher up the mountains and lower down to plains according to seasonal variation.

Gaddi-Sippis:

  • Gaddis and Sippis communities are semi-nomadic tribes having a special characteristic feature of living in dhoks (meadows) in the last inhabited areas of the five districts of Udhampur, Doda, Kathua, Reasi and Ramban of Jammu and Kashmir.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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