JPC's good work on Tribal Bill

JPC suggestions go beyond forest rights paradigm

By Nitin Sethi
Published: Thursday 15 June 2006

Eking a living: Tribal people< Their claim, among other things, was that the bill would destroy forests and not benefit stakeholders for whom it was meant -- in other words, scheduled tribes. Tribal rights groups, on the other hand, had defended the 2005 bill saying it would merely help set on record what was anyway a lived reality -- the fact that several tribal and other communities had been using forests even before forest laws were enacted and that conservation did not have to be exclusionary. They also claimed the bill was a dilution of sorts as it remained limited to vesting rights on only scheduled tribes and not other forest dwellers. Moreover, it had riders that impinged over other rights and processes. The jpc has now recommended that these riders be relaxed (see table: Making a difference).

Unscheduled entry jpc has made three vital recommendations. First, the bill should deal with all forest dweller groups, and not just scheduled tribes. Second, the cut-off date for deciding who can be vested with rights should be pushed to December 2005, when the bill was first tabled, instead of 1980 -- the year the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, was enacted. Third, the ceiling of 2.5 hectare (ha) of land given to each settler family needs to be done away with.

It has also recommended several other changes regarding the procedure for settling land and forest rights. It suggests that gram sabhas or village councils delineate such rights in their respective areas. The first right of appeal extends to a sub-divisional committee, which can only suggest changes to the gram sabha, giving them the upperhand to reject such changes. The second right of appeal may be made to the district committee. That decision will be final.

The committee also recommends that communities themselves should supervise whether settled people have indulged in any activity that may have adversely affected wildlife, forest, or biodiversity.

The forest department does not come into the picture anymore. Not only that, jpc also suggests that the bill carry provisions to define what core wildlife areas are from where people could be resettled.

Strengthening itself against arguments from wildlife enthusiasts like Valmik Thapar who had suggested that tribal communities may be displaced, the bill now suggests that acquisition of rights, when settled, will be along the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to the Schedule Areas Act, 1996, where permission of the gram sabha is required prior to such an acquisition.

The report will now be taken up by the Union government. A group of ministers is expected to re-examine the bill and discuss it in the monsoon session of parliament, scheduled for July 15. Meanwhile, conservation groups will keep their eyebrows raised.

Click here to download entire bill [pdf]

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