Forest title claims of over 50% tribals, forest dwellers rejected: report

Where titles have been granted, average size of land holdings much smaller than what the Forest Rights Act provides for, says status report on implementation of the Act  

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Published: Friday 15 June 2012

The latest status report of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs on the implementation status of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 confirms the general perception that the law has not really benefitted tribal people and other forest dwellers of the country. The report shows that more than half of the total claims filed by the forest dwellers for land titles under FRA have been rejected. What’s more, though the Act has the provision for recognising rights for land parcels of up to 4 ha size to each legitimate claimant, the average size of the land holdings for which titles have been granted under the Act is only 1.4 ha.

The status report, which was released this week, shows that for a total 1,254,456 titles 1.8 million ha of forestland has been distributed so far. The implementation of the Act started in 2007 with the purpose of recognising rights of the forest dwellers over the forest resources they have been traditionally using. However, its implementation has been plagued with various problems, specially the resistance from the forest department in ceding control over the forest resources.

Forest rights at a glance
Total number of titles distributed so far: 1,254,456

Forestland to which titles have
been granted: 1.8 million ha

Average size of the land holdings for which titles have been granted: 1.4 ha

Total number of claims processed so far: 2.8 million

Claims rejected: 54%

Community forest claims granted: 0.5% of total claims processed
Only 0.5 per cent of the 2.8 million claims processed so far recognise community rights over forest resources while 46 per cent recognise individual rights over forest dwellings and farms in forestland. Community rights under the Act include the right to collect minor forest produce (MFP), like bamboo and tendu leaves, which accounts for half the forest departments’ revenue. According to an estimate by a committee of the ministry of Panchayati Raj, the production potential of these MFP’s is close to Rs 4,000 crore. However, the tribals in most of the forests still remain collectors of these produce and earn daily wages from the forest department or contractors. The community rights also include the right to manage and protect the community forest resources; however, this has hardly been implemented in the country.

Tribal affairs minister circulates list of corrective measures

A week before the release of the report, the tribal affairs minister V Kishore Chandra Deo had written to the chief ministers of the forested states, expressing concern over the poor implementation of the Act. He wrote that even after five years of enactment, the flagship scheme of the UPA government has not benefitted the majority of the tribal population. He said in his letter that the rejection rate of claims under the Act was very high and the rejected claimants were not given any reason for the rejection nor an opportunity to appeal against the rejection.

“Where land rights are recognised, the area for which the title is issued is often a fraction of the area of which the people are actually entitled to. Recognition of community rights such as, rights to minor forest produce, grazing areas, water bodies, habitats of primitive tribal groups, pastoralists routes etc are very low,” said the minister. As a result, he said, large numbers of forest dwellers are facing eviction or harassment by forest authorities. He asked the chief ministers to give “a clear signal” to the implementing authorities that “all rights of the forest dwellers must be adhered to and that the democratic process under FRA must be respected.”  For this, the minister also sent a list of corrective measures to the chief ministers to be taken for effective implementation of the Act. The ministry is also mulling amendments to the Act and its guidelines for its effective implementation.

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