Report National Committee on Forest Rights Act

The  Scheduled  Tribes  and  Other  Traditional  Forest  Dwellers  (Recognition  of  Forest Rights) Act, 2006, popularly known as  the Forests Rights Act (FRA), was enacted in 2007  through  the  Ministry  of  Tribal  Affairs    to  correct  the  ‘historic  injustice  done  to forest-dwelling  communities’.  These  communities  were  cultivating  /occupying  forest land  and  using  forest  produce  since  ages  but  had  no  tenurial  security.  Broadly speaking, this Act recognizes and vests individual forest-dwellers with forest rights to live  in  and  cultivate  forest  land  that  was  occupied  before  13  Dec  2005  and  grants community  forest  rights  to  manage,  protect,  regenerate  the  forest  under  section 3(1)(i)  and  to  own  and  dispose  minor  forest  products  from  forests  where  they  had traditional  access. 

Many  states  and  Union  Territories  (UTs)  which  have  such  forest dwelling communities started implementing FRA  immediately after  the notification of the  FRA  Rules  on  1st  January  2008,  generally  through  their  Departments of  Tribal /Social Welfare. The Union Ministry of Tribal affairs has been regularly monitoring the progress  of  implementation,  issuing  clarifications and  updating  the  latest  figures  on its website every month.  The  implementation  of  this  Act  has  thrown  up  a  number  of  issues,  ranging  from concerns about how committees have been constituted and about high rates of claim rejections to how exactly forest governance would take place after community forest rights are recognized. In April 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry  of  Tribal  Affairs  jointly  constituted  a  20  member  committee  to  look  at  the various  issues  relating  to  the  implementation  of  the  FRA  and  sustainable  forest management.

The key TOR of the Committee include: 
    *  study  in  detail  the  implementation  of  the  Forest Rights  Act  2006  including  factors that are aiding and impeding its implementation, 
    *  recommend  necessary  policy  changes  in  the  future management  of  the  forestry sector in India which may be necessary as a consequence of implementation of the Act, 
    * identify the role of various agencies (official and others) in facilitating forest-dwellers carrying out their roles regarding conservation and management of forests, 
    *  define  a  new  role  for  the  Forest  Department  vis  a  vis  the  Gram  Sabha  for  forest conservation and regeneration, and 
    *  identify  opportunities  for  and  recommend  measures  to  ensure  convergence  of various  beneficiary  oriented  programmes  for  the  forest  rights  holders  taken up  by various line departments in the states. The  committee  deliberated  on  the  issues  of  the  TOR in  6  sittings,  and  through continuous internal discussions over e-mail.

Sub-groups of the committee conducted intensive  field  visits  and  public  consultations  covering  17  states  of  the  country  and gathered first hand information by interacting with tribal communities, other traditional forest   dwellers,   civil   society   organizations,   NGOs,   State   government   officials, academics,  and  local  leaders.  Further,  in  order  to maintain  transparency  of  the committee activities, a publicly accessible website was created  where  minutes  of  meetings,  field  trip  reports,  and  other  documents  were posted.  The   overall   finding   of   the   Committee   is   that,   with notable   exceptions,   the implementation  of  the  FRA  has  been  poor,  and  therefore  its  potential  to  achieve livelihood  security  and  changes  in  forest  governance  along  with  strengthening  of forest    conservation,    has    hardly    been    achieved.   

Specific    findings    and recommendations are summarised below under the following themes: 

 •    Implementation of FRA: Process and institutions
 •    Implementation of FRA: Individual Forest Rights 
 •    Implementation of FRA: Community Forest Rights 
 •    Implementation of FRA: Implementation of Development Projects
 •    Implementation for Special Groups  
 •    Protected Areas and Critical Wildlife Habitats 
 •    Future Structure of Forest Governance 
 •    Enhancing Livelihoods through NTFPs
 •    Convergence of Development Programmes for STs and OTFDs