6 Jan 2008

New forest law: A welcome change

This New Year Indian government had a special gift for the tribals and other forest dwellers, the notification of the rules enforcing the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. Already one year is past after this Act being passed and was root cause for much debate. Much pressure from the tiger protection lobby has forced the government not to include the tiger reserve areas under the purview of the Act.

It should be seen as a much welcome move from the government as the old Forest Act of 1927 which was denying any rights to the tribals and forest dwellers will be an old story, with the provisions for allowing the gram sabha, the elected village body, to restore traditional, land and community rights to tribals and forest dwellers, provided they have been living there for the last 25 years. But again the practical problem of implementation is sure to shoot up, with the difficulty in proving to be a resident.

A lacuna of the
Forest law as pointed out by the experts is of the rule 3(1) 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 minority. This contradicts both the Forest Rights Act — section 2(p) of which clearly states that, in Scheduled Areas at least, the gram sabha should be that of the hamlet — as well as the panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The rule will make the law impossible to implement.

Hope this shift in the perceptions and conceding the rights of the forest dwellers and the tribals is there to stay, as this was a much needed right to be conferred upon the tribals and forest dwellers, who were constantly being tortured by the forest officials and huge chunk of them had to face the constant threats of displacement. Let them at least have the right to what and where they belong to.

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