Study decries slow pace of recognition of community forest rights

Just about 3 percent of the minimum potential of Community Forest Rights could be achieved in the last ten years, as per a recent report. Titled ‘Promise and Performance: Ten Years of the Forest Rights Act in India’ the report released late last year was produced as a part of Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy Process (CFR-LA), India. The process initiated in 2011 facilitates the exchange of information and experiences related to the Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

Forest Rights act seeks to secure traditional rights over forest land and community forest resources, and establish democratic community-based forest governance. The report dealing with the issue of securing land and resource rights highlights seeks to highlight the potential of Forest Rights Act, assess its achievements, identify the bottlenecks, and find the ways forward. More specifically, it aims to assess the potential of Forest Rights Act in transforming forest governance by empowering local communities and the gram sabha to protect and conserve forests; ensuring live­lihood security and poverty alleviation; securing gender justice; meeting Sustainable Development Goals, especially the goals of eliminating poverty and achieving ecological sustainability; and dealing with climate change.

The CFR provision is the most significant and powerful right in FRA, as it recognizes the gram sabha’s authority and responsibility to pro­tect, manage and conserve its customary forests for sustainable use and against ex­ternal threats.

The report quotes “the bare minimum estimated potential forest area over which Community Forest Resource rights can be recognized in India (excluding five north-eastern states and Jammu & Kashmir) is approximately 85.6 million acres (34.6 million ha). Rights of more than 200 million Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers in over 170,000 villages are estimated to get recognized under FRA”.

“Positive examples of assertion of CFR rights, poverty alleviation, sustainable and equitable forest use and management based on democratic decision-making cited in the report, are unfortunately being met with greater hostility than support from the establishment,” the report mentions in its conclusion. “Wherever forest dwelling communities have successfully challenged non-consultative diversion of their customary forests for non-forest use, efforts have been made to dilute FRA provisions and the requirement of gram sabha consent for forest diversion… Efforts to bypass recognition of rights and gram sabha consent for faster forest clearances for extractive industries and infrastructure projects often prove counter-productive, especially when awareness about FRA among forest-dwelling communities is increasing and many are beginning to assert their rights guaranteed by law and Constitution,” the report says.

As per the report, the better performing states are Maharashtra, Odisha, Kerala and Gujarat (only in Scheduled V areas). The report outlines the major institutional and procedural bottlenecks in Forest Rights Act imple­mentation. The reasons for poor implementation of CFR rights are absence of political will, both at the national and state levels and the lack of effort to build capacity in the Central nodal agency, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The Ministry of Enveironment, Forests and Climate Change and forest bureaucracy are generally opposed to Community Forest Resource rights. This gets manifest in the form of constant opposition by the Forest Department at the ground level.

The way forward as per the report is –

  • Marshal political support to implement FRA,
  • Send a clear message to the forest bureaucracy and MoEFCC to respect Parliament’s au­thority and stop obstructing FRA implementation;
  • Undertake implementation in mission mode with clear budgeting support;
  • Strengthen MoTA and state nodal agencies to implement FRA;
  • Ensure effective monitoring systems at MoTA and state levels;
  • Initiate awareness programmes on a large scale and build capacity of FRCs and the gram sabha;
  • Develop an inter-ministerial process for MoEFCC and other relevant ministries to resolve laws, policies and programmes conflicting with FRA;
  • Institute mechanisms to ensure unhindered exercise of CFR governance by the gram sabha after recognition and assertion of rights.

The report can be accessed here

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