It may not be possible to reject land title claims filed under Forest Rights Act in future
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs will soon issue a new set of orders to make Forest Rights Act effective. The orders will be out by the first week of December, says V Kishore Chandra Deo, the Union minister in charge of tribal affairs.
He disclosed this to a gathering of forest dwellers and activists from 12 states who met him in Delhi. Earlier, the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers along with other groups working on forestry had submitted to the minister a set of recommendations on changes in FRA.
The tribal affairs ministry is currently reviewing the implementation of the Act. There have been widespread complaints of forest officials sabotaging settlement of forestland claims by tribal communities and other forest dwellers. “Many claims have been unduly rejected. They will be reopened,” says Deo, hinting at a major reshuffling of the Act's implementation process. Till end of August, of the 3,149,269 claims received, as many as 1,577,831 (over 50 per cent) were rejected.
Speaking on the very low rate of settlement of community rights over forests, Deo says that the forest department officials are the main culprits. “The provisions for community rights have been grossly misinterpreted and misused mostly by the forest officials in various parts of the country. Community rights are illegally being awarded to joint forest management committees, which are created by the forest department,” he says.
In an interview to Down To Earth a few weeks ago, Deo had promised amendments, if needed, to the Act. “If the Act needs to be amended, I will go for it. If some problems can be sorted out by amending rules or giving directions, I will do it,” he had said.
FRA will get preeminence
Though details are not available on the proposed changes in the Act, sources say that it will include major clarifications and orders on tribals' access to minor forest produce (as defined in FRA) and directions on processing forest claims. Sources say the ministry will clarify that FRA takes precedence over restrictive forest legislations like the Indian Forest Act of 1927. Declaration of minimum support price for minor forest produce is imminent. The ministry may order that claims cannot be rejected once filed. It will issue a new procedure that will make village council decisions on forest claims final. “Tribal affairs ministry is the only legal authority for implementing FRA,” says Deo.