Forest department’s role in managing forest resources curtailed
The Union ministry of tribal affairs has notified the amended rules for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006. The new rules, notified on September 6, bring more clarity to provisions relating to recognition of forest dwellers’ rights to conserve and manage community forest resources, the procedure for which was ambiguous even in the draft amendment rules issued by the ministry in July this year. The fresh rules also give more powers to gram sabha to ensure sustainable use of these resources.
FRA recognises the rights of forest dwellers over forestland and forest resources such as minor forest produce they have traditionally been extracting and using. The implementation of the Act started in 2008, but its benefits did not reach most tribals. The ineffective rules formulated under the Act were blamed for the tardy implementation. To correct this, the tribal affairs ministry had made draft amendments to the rules on July 19 and invited public comments on the draft. In the next one month several suggestions and objections were sent to the ministry on the draft rules by various stakeholders.
Gram sabha to issue transit passes
Sources in the ministry revealed while many tribal rights groups recommended more clarity on provisions of community forest rights in the draft, forest departments across the country had objected to the rules as they gave more authority to the gram sabha and curtailed the role of the departments. The new rules say that forest dwellers can transport minor forest produce (MFP) by “any appropriate means of transport” and mandate that transit passes for the same will be issued by a committee constituted by the gram sabha.
The draft rules issued in July were silent on transit passes. “This would have led to a threat of opening up of forest for unsustainable use. But allowing the forest department to issue transit passes, as has been done so far, would have defeated the purpose. The ministry has done the right thing by empowering gram sabha to issue transit passes,” said Madhu Sarin of non-profit Campaign for Survival and Dignity.
According to the new rule, the committee constituted under the gram sabha will prepare conservation and management plan for community forest resources after forest dwellers’ rights on such resources are recognised. The draft rules were silent on post rights-recognition scenario on how these forest resources will be managed. So far, the forests are managed by the forest departments according to their working plans. The rules say that the gram sabha’s committee can integrate its management plans with the forest department’s working plans if it considers this necessary. The gram sabha will approve all decisions of the committee pertaining to issue of transit permits, use of income from sale of forest produce or modification of management plans, say the rules.
Forest claims cannot be rejected arbitrarily
Mandating that forest rights related to protection, regeneration and management of community forest resources by forest dwellers for sustainable use should be recognised in all the villages with forest dwellers, the rules say that in case this is not done in a village the reason should be recorded by the district-level committee formed to look into the FRA claims. To ensure that right claims are not rejected illegitimately by the authorities, the new rules put additional conditions for rejection than those which were there in the draft rules. The authorities will now not be able to reject the claims for being absent from the field verification process.
Besides, no committee or individual official at the panchayat, block or forest range level except the forest rights committee shall be eligible to receive, decide or reject the forest rights claims. The rules say that satellite imagery and technological tools cannot be treated as the replacement of evidence prescribed in the Act for verifying the claims, but can only be used as supplements. The new rules also prescribe a format for the state level monitoring committee to report on the progress of the implementation of the Act which requires detailed information on community forest rights claims.
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