Legal rights over forest land: Tribals no longer “encroachers” or “illegal occupants” – Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

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As a New Year gift, the UPA Government notified the long-stalled Forest Rights Act, which gives tribals legal rights over forest land. The notification of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, (popularly Forest Rights Act) is expected to benefit 10 million forest dwellers across 17 states.

The Act, passed by Parliament in December 2006, has a tumultuous history with forest conservationists and tribal rights activists running high-pitched campaigns against each other. […]

Tribals have been residing in forest land for generations, cultivating and collecting forest produce like firewood and fruits. They, however, do not have a legal document showing that they are owners of the land. Ever since the Forest Conservation Act, these tribals have been seen as encroachers or illegal occupants. After the enactment of the Act, these tribals will now have the legal right to own, collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce. This is expected to undo the historical injustice done to forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes who were living at the whims of the forest department, so far. […]

The major grouse is dilution of the Act by declaring large tracts of forest land as critical habitat. Another is related to making the Gram Sabha unmanageable. According to the Act, the Gram Sabha plays a key role in determining who has rights to which forest resources. However, Rule 3(1) now defines the Gram Sabha as the Gram Sabha of the panchayat, which would include numerous actual villages. This will make democratic functioning impossible (as the number will simply be too large); further, in many areas forest dwellers will be the minorityRead more >>

Source: Forest Rights Act, The Indian Express, 2 January 2008
Address :
Date Visited: 27 January 2022

Tribal rights in land and forest should be respected
Jawaharlal Nehru on five principles for the policy to be pursued vis-a-vis the tribals >>
Photo © Indian Express

Implementation of Forest Rights Act: Towards an informed collective action by stakeholders

By: Azim Premji University Team, Initiative for Effective Implementation of FRA

1. Introduction and Background

This essay summarizes the provisions of the so-called, Forest Rights Act (FRA) in India and the challenges in its implementation. […]  

2. Why Forest Rights Act?

Though the tribal communities in India had been using forests for generations, such use was not based on any legal right. Also, they frequently shifted residence and activities for their subsistence from one place to another within the forest, which too has complicated the issue of their rights. (On the other hand, many farmers in India got their claim over a piece of land accepted legally by demonstrating their occupation for a long time). The absence of formal rights, as well as mobility of the tribal people, enabled the state to exercise control over forests without recognizing forest use by the tribal communities. It is a well-known fact that the colonial rulers of India have brought forests under the control of the government and this has continued after the independence of the country. Moreover, the control of state became stronger over time and as the conservation of forest became an international and national agenda in the 1980s. It has led to the increasing denial or intermediation of the use of forests by the tribal population.  The government imposed forest conservation laws without considering the livelihood needs of the people who have depended on it for generations. Moreover, there were minimal efforts to enlist the support of these communities in the management of forests. In that sense, the Indian situation is somewhat different from many other countries, where the efforts to conserve forests have, by and large, gone hand in hand with the efforts to meet the livelihood needs of forest-dependent people.  

3. What is Forest Rights Act?

Though it is commonly called, the `Forest Rights Act’, the actual name is the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Through this act, there are three major rights on forests to be transferred to the forest-dwelling tribal people. These include: 

a. Title for Forest Land Under Occupation […]  

b. Title to Community Forest Rights (CFR): This is the `right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries’. The Act `defines the term “minor forest produce” to include “all non-timber produce of plant origin, including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers, and the like”’. […]  

c. Title to Community Forest Resources […] 

The rights vested under the act are inheritable but not sale-able. […]  

Source: “Implementation of Forest Rights Act: Towards an informed collective action by stakeholders” by Azim Premji University Team, Initiative for Effective Implementation of FRA
Date Visited: 27 January 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Forest Rights Act) gives members of tribal communities the right “to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers.” – Azim Premji University Team

Learn from M S Swaminathan – a world renowned scientist – how biological diversity contributes to public health, people’s livelihood and environmental security in addition to food security: his call on fellow citizens to use and share resources in a more sustainable and equitable manner; outlining the long journey from the 1992 Earth Summit to a commitment to foster inherited knowledge through India’s Biodiversity Act and Genome Saviour Award; an award intended to reward those who are “primary conservers” – guardians of biological diversity!

More about the work of his foundation which “aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve lives and livelihoods of communities.” – | Regarding the issues of food security raised above, and the nutritional value of indigenous grains, seeds and millets, read an in-depth report that concludes that “the tribal food basket has always been ­diverse and nutritious” >>

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“Even though they are responsible for protecting the largest part of the global forest heritage […] a third of indigenous and community lands in 64 countries are under threat due to the lack of land tenure rights.” – Pressenza Rio de Janerio in “Indigenous people are heading to CoP26: ‘There is no solution to the climate crisis, without us‘” (Down To Earth) | Forest dwellers in early India – myths and ecology in historical perspective by Romila Thapar >>

See also

Adverse inclusion | Casteism | Rural poverty


Crafts and visual arts

Demographic Status of Scheduled Tribe Population of India (Census figures 2011)

Denotified Tribes, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes – Report and Recommendations (Technical Advisory Group)

Fact checking | Figures, census and other statistics

Human Rights Commission (posts) | (Government of India)

Imprisonment & rehabilitation

Search tips | Names of tribal communities, regions and states of India

State wise population of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and their percentage to the total population in the respective states and to the total STs population

“What are the Rights of Scheduled Tribes? – Government of India (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, NCST)

“What is the Forest Rights Act about?” – Campaign for Survival and Dignity

“Who are Scheduled Tribes?” – Government of India (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, NCST)