Promise and Performance of Forest Rights Act: The Tenth Anniversary Report
In December, 2006, both the houses of the Indian Parliament unanimously passed the historic Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, known as Forest Rights Act (FRA), in short. Rules under the Act were notified in December 2007, and from 1st January 2008, the Act became effective for implementation in all the states of India excepting Jammu and Kashmir. The Act states in its Preamble that rights of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) on their ancestral lands and habitats were not recognised in the consolidation of state forests during colonial rule as well as in Independent India. This resulted in historical injustice to these communities who are integral to the survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem. Recognising and vesting of these rights is, thus, the primary objective of this Act.
These rights include individual rights over forest lands, the right to hold forest lands under occupation for habitation / self cultivation, community rights over forest resources, the right to own, access, use and dispose of all minor forest produce (including bamboo), and the right to protect, regenerate, or conserve or manage forest resources as community forest resources for sustainable use. This is to facilitate the protection of forests and biodiversity, while ensuring livelihood and food security of the forest dwellers. The Act also establishes a three-tier, quasi-judicial system of authorities and framework of procedures, for determining the nature and extent of the rights. It recognises Gram Sabha as the authority to initiate this process by receiving claims, verifying the same, passing appropriate resolutions and then forwarding them to the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC) for further action. The SDLC is mandated to examine these resolutions, prepare a record of forest rights, and forward the same to the District Level Committee (DLC) for the final decision.
Geographically, Gujarat is divided in three distinct categories of areas. The first zone is hilly and comprises of tribal districts from Banaskantha in the North up to Valsad in the South. The Scheduled Areas of Gujarat with a significant tribal population also fall within this area. The second zone is on the coast, especially in the western peninsular Gujarat comprising largely of Saurashtra and Kutchh. The third zone is the middle industrial belt which is also known as the golden corridor of Gujarat. As the tribal districts and some parts of coastal areas have forest lands, the FRA is applicable in these two areas. However, unfortunately, in 2008, the Gujarat government decided to implement the Act initially in the tribal belt only. Implementation of the FRA in non-tribal areas was initiated in the year 2013, and is proceeding at a very slow pace. This report covers the FRA implementation only in the districts of the eastern tribal zone.