Legal rights over forest land: tribals no longer “encroachers” or “illegal occupants” since 2008 – Forest Rights Act (FRA)

The Indian Express, Wed Jan 02 2008

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 – Indian Express
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