The Forest Rights Act

State of Implementation of the Forest Rights Act - Summary Report

In September 2010, the Council for Social Development completed a summary report on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act.  It presents a snapshot of the general ground picture as of August 2010.  The Council hopes that this report will be followed by a detailed set of State-wise reports.

The report contains a set of summary recommendations.  These list various initial actions required to ensure better recognition of rights and respect for democratic principles in forest governance.  These are attached separately below. 

 

Main Findings of the Report

Most of the participants in the review reported that all of the key features of this legislation have been undermined by a combination of apathy and sabotage during the process of implementation. In the current situation the rights of the majority of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers are being denied and the purpose of the legislation is being defeated. Unless immediate remedial measures are taken, instead of undoing the historical injustice to tribal and other traditional forest dwellers, the Act will have the opposite outcome of making them even more vulnerable to eviction and denial of their customary access to forests. The testimonies made it clear that this is not merely a result of bureaucratic failure; both the Central and the State governments have actively pursued policies that are in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the Act.

The key violations revealed by the discussions are as follows:

 

  • In several major States, implementation of the Act has hardly taken place.

 

  • All States have largely failed to respect the Act's historic provisions regarding the role of the gram sabhas:

    • Gram Sabhas have been constituted at the wrong level and thereby rendered dysfunctional and ineffective.

    • Gram Sabhas have often been bypassed and officials, Forest Department and JFM committees have been empowered in violation of the law. Such violations include constitution of Forest Rights Committees and deliberate efforts to use Joint Forest Management to divide villages and substitute Forest Department-controlled JFM committees for community bodies.

 

  • There has been large-scale interference by the Forest Department in the rights recognition process. This takes the following forms:

    • Demands are made that claimants produce fine receipts or primary offence reports (PORs) from prior to 1980 (or from prior to the Act's cutoff date of 2005).

    • Demands are made that claimants should be on Forest Department “encroacher lists”.

    • Undue appropriation of authority and control over decisions on claims, overriding and bypassing the roles of the gram sabha, the Sub Divisional and District Level Committees.

    • Forest officials have occupied key implementation posts in state and central Tribal Welfare Departments and are imposing the Forest Department's perspective and interests on the process.

    • Imposition of conditions not required by law on both claims and on exercise of final rights.

    • Continued evictions of adivasis and forest dwellers in total violation of the law.

    • Continued application of contrary forestry legislations and efforts to subvert the law by passing new legislations that violate rights (such as in Madhya Pradesh).

 

  • All non-land rights in the Act – most of which are community rights – have largely been ignored in implementation. The Central and State governments have treated the Act as if it is a land title distribution scheme.

 

  • Sub-divisional level committees have arbitrarily rejected claims on the basis of illegal criteria, failed to inform claimants of the rejection and the reasons thereof, and failed to respect the democratic process mandated under the Act.

 

  • District level committees have been the site of a number of serious violations:

    • Rejections without any intimation or communication to the claimants.

    • Abdication of responsibility by other departments in favour of the Forest Department, which has been given effective veto powers in most areas.

    • Unilateral reductions in the size of land titles granted to the claimants without any reason being given and without any intimation to them. It is understood that this too is based on the Forest Department's interference.

    • Abuse of GPS technology to manipulate maps and areas of land for which titles are being given.

 

  • The process in most States that have implemented the Act has been marked by haste and a total failure to provide information or engage in awareness-raising or trainings, including with respect to areas where the Rules specifically require authorities under the Act to perform these duties.

 

  • Eligible claimants have been denied rights, particularly in the case of other traditional forest dwellers, whose claims have been overwhelmingly rejected in all States. All States seem to be assuming that all OTFDs are ineligible unless they can produce documentary evidence of 75 years of continuous residence, when such evidence is not required under the Rules (besides, in many cases even the State governments themselves do not have records of that period).

 

  • Protected areas have largely been excluded from the implementation of the Act.

 

  • The Central government, and in particular the Environment Ministry, has continued policies that are in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the Forest Rights Act. These include afforestation and plantation programmes that result in violations of rights; Joint Forest Management; and relocation from tiger reserves and diversion of forest land in favour of large projects, both without any respect for the rights of forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act or for the procedures and safeguards provided in law.

 

  • The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has shown no seriousness or commitment to addressing any of these issues and has largely failed to even monitor the Act properly. Instead it has only gathered statistics on numbers of claims processed and made this the basis of a number of “awards” and proclamations that have no relation to the ground reality.

 

Full text of the summary report is available in the attachments below.

 

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