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NGT upholds rights of pastoralists in Banni grasslands

Context:

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered all encroachments to be removed from Gujarat’s Banni grasslands within six months and directed a joint committe to prepare an action plan.

Thet NGT said that the Maldharis (Pastoralists) will continue to hold the right to conserve the community forests in the area, granted to them as per the provisions in Section 3 of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.

The region’s nomadic pastoralist community, the Maldharis, whose livelihoods are dependent on this protected shrub-savanna, welcomed the move.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues Relating to Development, Issues Related to SCs & STs, Management of Social Sector/Services)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. National Green Tribunal (NGT)
  2. Structure of National Green Tribunal
  3. Powers of NGT
  4. Significance of NGT
  5. About Banni Grassland
  6. About Maldharis
  7. About the Forest Rights Act 2006

National Green Tribunal (NGT)

  • The National Green Tribunal has been established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for 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.
  • Hence, NGT is a Statutory Body.
  • NGT Act draws inspiration from the India’s constitutional provision of (Constitution of India/Part III) Article 21 Protection of life and personal liberty, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.
  • National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 is an Act of the Parliament of India which enables creation of a special tribunal to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues.

Structure of National Green Tribunal

  • Following the enactment of the said law, the Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench). Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region.
  • The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Head Quartered in Delhi.
  • Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT will comprise of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member.
  • Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years’ experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.

Powers of NGT

The NGT has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act. These include the following:

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

This means that any violations pertaining ONLY to these laws, or any order / decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT.

Significance of NGT

  • It protected vast acres of forest land, halted polluting construction activities in metros and smaller towns.
  • It has penalised errant officials who have turned a blind eye toward enforcing the laws, and held large corporate entities to account.
  • It protected the rights of tribal communities and ensure the enforcement of the “polluter pays” principle in letter and spirit.
  • Over the years NGT has emerged as a critical player in environmental regulation, passing strict orders on issues ranging from pollution to deforestation to waste management.
  • It helps reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts on environmental matters.
  • The Chairperson and members are not eligible for reappointment; hence they are likely to deliver judgements independently, without succumbing to pressure from any quarter.
  • The NGT has been instrumental in ensuring that the Environment Impact Assessment process is strictly observed.
  • Importantly, the NGT has NOT been vested with powers to hear any matter relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation etc.

About Banni Grassland

  • Banni is the largest grassland of Asia situated near the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat – and it accounts for almost 45% of the pastures in Gujarat.
  • Two ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands, are mixed side by side in Banni and Vegetation in Banni is sparse and highly dependent on rainfall.
  • Banni is dominated by low-growing plants, forbs and graminoids, many of which are halophiles (salt tolerant), as well as scattered tree cover and scrub.
  • The area is rich in flora and fauna, with 192 species of plants, 262 species of birds, several species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

About Maldharis

  • Maldharis are a tribal herdsmen community inhabiting Banni.
  • Originally nomads, they came to be known as Maldharis after settling in Junagarh (mainly Gir Forest).
  • The literal meaning of Maldhari is keeper (dhari) of the animal stock (mal).
  • The Gir Forest National Park is home to around 8,400 Maldharis.

About the Forest Rights Act 2006

  • Under the provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006, forest dwellers cannot be displaced unless the rights settlement process has been completed.
  • Moreover, the Act has a special provision for setting up ‘Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH)’, for the conservation of the species.
  • It strengthens the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security of the FDST(Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes) and OTFD (Other Traditional Forest Dwellers).
  • The Act identifies four types of rights:
    1. Title rights: It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
    2. Use rights: The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas etc.
    3. Relief and development rights: To rehabilitate in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
    4. Forest management rights: It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

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