Trouble Galaxy Destroyed dreams, chapter 786
India's top court has suspended tourism in core areas of tiger reserves as the country struggles to stem the dwindling numbers of the endangered wild cats.I am afraid that the Supreme Court Order would be misused against the tribal who inhibit the Core forest areas wher Fifth and sixth schedule of the Constitution and the latest Forest Act 2006, Vanadhikar Adhiniyam is not still implemented. The Luxury Resorts sitauted in all these areas do charge Rs 30,000 thosand to Rs One lac and the business is quite profitable violating forest and environment laws. The states and the centre do protect corpoarte interest and hence, it is imminent that the resorts would continue the grand business, but the Trabals would be ejected out immediately.
A glimpse of the magnificent black and yellow amidst swaying grass or peeping over a rock is enough to titillate one's heart with colourful cameos. You need not be a wildlife enthusiast to appreciate this graceful beauty. So exciting is it, that people abandon all material comforts and roam in the jungles ignoring scorching heat and severe cold.There is no better place on earth to encounter this fascinating beauty in its natural habitat than India. India today has around 80 National Parks and 441 Sanctuaries of which some have been conserved as Tiger reserves under the Project Tiger Scheme.The itinerary for the visit to this beautiful land of India should include a couple of tiger reserves. Being a land of diversity, the climate, vegetation and fauna of these reserves are widely varied and they have been placed in different quarters of the country.Many of these tiger reserves are established in the former hunting grounds of the former Indian and British aristocracy. Some parks do offer modern styled guesthouses with electricity while others only have bungalows with basic amenities. Jeep or Van ride is available everywhere and in some, elephant or boat rides are organized to scan these areas more discreetly.
Coming to the rescue of the big cat, the Supreme Court on Tuesday banned tourism in core areas of tiger reserves. Supreme Court has today ordered that tourism be banned in core areas of all tiger reserves in the country. It has said this ban should continue till it passes final orders in the matter filed by Bhopal-based environment protection NGO Prayatna. The NGO is demanding a ban on tourism in 'core areas' of tiger reserves while it can continue in the 'buffer areas' of tiger reserves.The court had earlier directed the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), to submit final guidelines related to tourism in core area by July. The court will hear now the matter on August 22 next, to examine the guidelines submitted by the authority.
Hailing the Supreme Court order of disallowing tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan today said she would ask the state governments to strictly follow the directives of the apex court. "We welcome the Supreme Court order banning tourism in core areas of tiger reserves. We are very strict about banning tourism in core zones of tiger reserves. I will personally write to all Chief Ministers asking them to strictly follow the Apex Court directive," Natarajan told PTI. The Minister also expressed concern over increased tourism activities in core areas in the tiger reserves.
There are 39 Tiger reserves in India which are governed by Project Tiger(1973). The largest Tiger Reseve is the Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve of Andhra Pradesh. These 40,969 km2 (15,818 sq mi) of reserves are operated "to ensure maintenance of a viable population of the conservation dependent Bengal tigers in India for scientific, economic, aesthetic, cultural and ecological values and to preserve for all time areas of biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people". The landmark report, Status of the Tigers, Co-predators, and Prey in India, published by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, estimates only 1411 adult tigers in existence in India (plus uncensused tigers in the Sundarbans).
Meanwhile,Tourists have been banned in two major Tiger reserves in Coimbatore and Nilgiris districts, following the ban ordered by Supreme Court on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves across the country.Tourists were thronging major spots like 'Monkey Falls,' 'Top Slip' and Valparai coming under Anamalai Tiger Reserve in the district, as also some places of Panchalingam river and Amaravathi Dam near Udumalpet in Tirupur district. Considering the concern expressed by Supreme Court and subsequent ban, the officials have banned the entry of tourists in these areas, forest department sources said.Similarly, tourists would not be allowed in areas under Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in nearby Nilgiris district, which is famous for its scenic beauty and bio-diversity, they said. The apex court yesterday took strong note of some states failing to implement its directions to conserve the big cat and ordered that tourism be banned in core areas of tiger reserves in the country till further directions.
This is an interim order until the court rules on the guidelines submitted by the authority. The ban has been prompted by foot-dragging by states on an earlier court order to notify buffer zones (a 10-km stretch around the core area) where tourism is expected to be permitted.
The tiger conservation authority has claimed that the trend the world over is towards banning all tourism-related activities in the core areas. Such areas are defined as zones necessary for tiger conservation without affecting the rights of forest-dwellers.The authority's guidelines propose a ban on any new tourist facilities on forestland. It suggests that permanent facilities located inside of the core tiger wildlife habitat should be phased out within five years.
"Tourism causes disturbance in an inviolate area. Therefore, like all biotic disturbance, the core areas have to be free from tourism. Keeping this in mind, guidelines have been issued by Project Tiger to phase out tourism from core areas to buffer areas in tiger reserves," the authority said in a note to the court.
The court order has evoked sharp responses from sections of wildlife tour operators and conservation enthusiasts who have warned that banning tourism will over time hurt tigers rather than protect them.
Tour operators also say tens of thousands of members of local communities around tiger zones depend on tourism for their livelihoods.
"Tourism is the only industry that can co-exist with conservation," said Goverdhan Rathore, an owner of a lodge in Rajasthan's Ranthambore. "Nearly 25,000 people around Ranthambore depend on tourism alone – there'll be large scale destitution in this area."
Conservationists estimate that up to 150,000 tourists visit the Ramthambore park each year, contributing to its business revenue of Rs 60 crore. "The entire livelihood of local people depends on tourism," said Dharmendra Kandal, a conservationist at Ranthambore.
Tour operators around the Jim Corbett Park estimate that nearly half the 90-odd hotels outside the park would shut down and hundreds of safari operators and nature guides would lose jobs if the interim order becomes the final one.
"Tourism brings eyes and ears on the ground – it's crucial for accountability," said Julian Matthews, the chairperson of the Travel Operators for Tigers India, a not-for-profit wildlife association that has been campaigning for sustainable nature tourism.
India's tiger census figures last year estimate 1,706 tigers scattered across 39 tiger reserves across the country. Wildlife scientists believe tigers are well-protected within the core areas.
In almost every tiger reserve, tourism is currently allowed in a small segment of the core area. "This order puts an end to any commercial activity, including tourism, even in those areas," said a wildlife conservationist.
Wildlife biologists have cautiously welcomed the court's order, saying there are problems with the tourism model that has evolved in India in recent years. But even they are uncomfortable about a complete ban on viewing tigers in parts of the core areas.
"We need people to be watching our tigers in their natural habitats, but it should not be only the rich," said Ulhas Karanth, a Bangalore-based tiger expert with the Wildlife Conservation Society, India Programme.
While the court order seems to suggest that tourism could continue in buffer zones around the core areas, both tour operators and conservation scientists point out that buffer zones have virtually no wildlife. "Buffer zones often comprise private land, much of it farmland, and the only animals to be seen there are cattle, dogs and cats," said one lodge operator near the Bandhavgarh reserve.
"Some 30,000 members of the local community are likely to lose their jobs around Kanha and Bandhavgarh," said Amit Sankhala, an operator of lodges at the two tiger reserves. Tour operators predict that unemployment will push locals into poaching.
But the authority has said there is no correlation between tiger abundance and tourism. "It is a myth that tourism ensures tiger protection — on the contrary, areas like Sariska and Panna have lost their tigers despite tourist visitation," the authority said in its report to the court.
Citing simulation studies done by the authority and the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, the note said a viable population of 20 breeding tigresses requires an inviolate area of around 800 to 1200sqkm.
"Further, an ecologically sensitive zone (buffer zone, co-existence area, multiple area) of around 1,000 to 3,000sqkm is also required around the inviolate core area for sustaining dispersing tigers, surplus prime tigers and old displaced tigers," it said.
There are 13 tiger range countries, including India. Of them, India has the maximum number of tigers in the world. "However, the concept of core zone, buffer zone is not new," it said, plugging the concept of an "exclusive" tiger agenda for the core and "inclusive" people-friendly agenda for the buffer areas.
That would require state governments to first identify the core area and the buffer areas under them. As the first step towards eco-tourism, the top court today said that all states must notify these areas.
Where Nature shows off its glory
Welcome to the natural abode of the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger. Located opposite the Tiger Reserve Forest at Sajnekhali, the Sunderban Tiger Camp stands on a lush green field adorned with beautiful flowers. Retire to the comforts of your air-conditioned cottage for a night dreaming about the adventures of the day.
State Tiger Reserves Year of Estd. Total Area (km2)
Assam Kaziranga 2006 859
Assam Manas 1973-74 2840
Assam Nameri 1999-2000 344
Arunachal Pradesh Namdapha 1982-83 1985
Arunachal Pradesh Pakhui 1999-2000 862
Andhra Pradesh Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam 1982-83 3568
Bihar Valmiki 1989-90 840
Chhattishgarh Indravati 1982-83 2799
Chhattishgarh Guru Ghasidas
Jharkhand Palamau 1973-74 1026
Karnataka Bandipur 1973-74 866
Karnataka Nagarhole (extension) 1999-2000 643
Karnataka Bhadra 1998-99 492
Karnataka Dandeli-Anashi 2007 875
Kerala Periyar 1978-79 777
Madhya Pradesh Bandhavgarh 1993-94 1162
Madhya Pradesh Bori-Satpura 1999-2000 1486
Madhya Pradesh Kanha 1973-74 1945
Madhya Pradesh Panna 1994-95 542
Madhya Pradesh Pench 1992-93 758
Madhya Pradesh Ratapani 2008-09 674
Maharashtra Melghat 1973-74 1677
Maharashtra Pench 1992-93 257
Maharashtra Tadoba Andhari 1993-94 620
Maharashtra Sahayadri 2008-09 569
Mizoram Dampa 1994-95 500
Orissa Simlipal 1973-74 2750
Orissa Sunabeda 2008-09 856
Rajasthan Ranthambhore 1973-74 1334
Rajasthan Darrah 2009 392
Rajasthan Sariska 1978-79 866
Tamil Nadu Kalakad-Mundathurai 1988-89 800
Uttar Pradesh Dudhwa 1987-88 811
Uttar Pradesh Katerniaghat (extension) 1999-2000 551
Uttar Pradesh Pilibhit 2008-09 1089
Uttarakhand Corbett 1973-74 1316
West Bengal Buxa 1982-83 759
West Bengal Sunderbans 1973-74 2585
Karnataka Biligiriranga Hills 2011
Karnataka Kudremukha 2011
The court also asked, "Why should tourism be allowed in core area? Tigers are practically on the verge of extinction whatever the statistics."
The court also slammed the Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh governments for not notifying the buffer and core areas in tiger reserves in their states. Only once buffers are notified can only tourism be banned in core areas. These states will now have to pay Rs. 10,000 as fine. They have been given three weeks to issue notification on buffer zones in tiger reserve in their states.
Tour operators have been opposing the ban, but the court stuck to its decision. Resuming its hearing on the action taken by states to regulate commercialisation of revenue land around big cat habitats and help preserve the endangered species, the apex court slammed several states for failing to have notified buffer zones around tiger reserves.
"Why should tourism be allowed in core areas of tiger reserves," a bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifulla asked, while noting the tiger was on the verge of extinction.
No tourism will be allowed in core areas of tiger reserves, the bench categorically said. The bench also warned of contempt proceedings and imposition of exemplary costs on states which failed to notify the buffer zones in their respective tiger reserves.
"We make it clear that till final directions are issued by this court, the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism," the bench said in its order.
However, counsel for Arunachal Pradesh and Jharkhand stated that they were ready with the notification and would file appropriate affidavits during the course of the day.
The SC further warned that if they (states) failed to comply within three weeks the defaulting states shall be saddled with a cost of Rs 50,000 each, recoverable from the Principal Secretary, Forest of the state concerned.
During the last hearing on July 10, the SC had granted two more weeks "as last opportunity" to states which had defaulted in notifying buffer zones around tiger reserves.
Rajasthan's counsel had told the court during the last hearing that the state had already notified the zone.
On April 4, the apex court had asked Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra to notify the zones within three months.
Under Section 38(b) and Explanation 1 & 2 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the states have to notify the list of core and buffer areas of tiger reserves in their respective jurisdiction.
Under the Act, buffer zones are the areas peripheral to the critical tiger habitats or core areas providing supplementary habitats for dispersing tigers and offering scope for co-existence of human activity.
Conservationist Ajay Dubey in his PIL had demanded removal commercial tourism activities out of core or critical tiger habitats in the tiger reserves.
The buffer zones constitute the fringe areas of tiger reserves up to a distance of 10 kms.
It has been alleged that in violation of the conservation norms, authorities in various states had permitted large-scale construction of hotels, resorts and tourism projects, thereby gravely disturbing wildlife activities.
Ninety travel operators under the banner of Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) have expressed their unhappiness at the Supreme Court order disallowing tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves.
Expressing his anguish over the judgment, Dr Goverdhan Rathore, a lodge owner and son of the legendary conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore, expressed surprise that the Supreme Court has chosen to disregard clear evidence that "wildlife tourism in Indian tiger reserves was not harming tigers".
Mr Rathore cited examples of Corbett, Ranthambor, Bandhavgarh reserves where tiger numbers have gone up even as tourism figures have also increased in contrast to "unseen and unloved sanctuaries" which have lost their tigers and wildlife due to poaching and neglect.
Expressing surprise over the order, Mr Rathore said the Supreme Court had not chosen to pay attention to the disruptive role of religious tourism and its adverse impact to wildlife.
"From next week, more than one million people will enter Ranthambore for the Ganeshmela. In the same way, over one lakh tourists enter Sariska every Tuesday to pray at a Hanuman temple.
"Their presence is much more disruptive whereas the presence of 40 vehicles inside the sanctuary for a six- hour period in a day has been found to be detrimental to wildlife," Mr Rathore added.
The TOFT, in a statement, has urged the apex court to consider a review petition and continue to allow "responsible tourism" across tiger reserves so that nature lovers can get a chance to see animals in their natural habitat.
Wildlife Protection Society of India director Belinda Wright claimed, "Around the world, parks are trying to do both conservation and tourism in a complementary manner but we are doing the opposite."
"Poachers must be celebrating because they will now have a free run of these reserves," said Ms Wright.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, however, welcomed the court's order stating that she would ask state governments to strictly follow the directives of the top court.
"I will personally write to all chief ministers asking them to strictly follow the top court directive," said Ms Natarajan, expressing concern about the increasing numbers of tourists visiting tourist reserves.
The Supreme Court decision to ban tourism in core area of tiger reserves in the country has sparked mixed reactions among conservationists, tourists and those talking to save tigers.
"It will prove to be a final nail in tiger's coffin," felt Himanshu Bagde, young naturalist and regular visitor to parks and tiger reserves.
While Congress MP from Nagpur Vilas Muttemwar, who is fighting for legal status to Nagpur as tiger capital, supported the ban saying tigers will be able to live more freely. Nagpur, as named by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh, is known as the Gateway to Tiger Country.
"It will also help stop nuisance of so-called leaders and VIPs who had little regard for rules," Muttemwar said.
When asked about losing local support, the MP said locals can be compensated by developing tourism in buffer.
Bittu Sahgal, conservationist and Editor of the popular Sanctuary-Asia, said: "Banning tourism in tiger reserves will neither benefit tigers, nor the communities living around such reserves. 'Yahoo tourism' should be controlled, but stopping everyone from accessing the forest is throwing the baby out with the bath."
"Complete ban on tourism is really shocking and suicidal. Tourism should be done in a controlled way. Tourists are eyes of the forest department and many times they report about unscrupulous elements," said Nitin Desai, Central India director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
Desai added by banning tourism from core areas "you will not only lose public support but also thousands of eyes and ears that scan the horizons for intruders".
However, Praful Bhamburkar, manager, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), was cautious. "Complete ban is unjustified. Tourism should be phased out slowly. Problems arise as management is poor. The Taj Mahal is under pressure today. Should we close tourism to it," asked Bhamburkar.
"Those who advocate ban must remember that they will encourage poachers and timber mafias to enter the core of our wilderness. We must decide who we want - poachers or tourists. No longer can we rest on the laurels of our forest department. The debacle and extinction of tigers in Sariska and Panna reveal the horrors of bad governance," said Nishikant Mukherjee, a conservationist who works with Baiga tribals in Kanha.
Former president of Vidarbha Economic Development (VED) Council Vilas Kale says around 40 years ago, when Indira Gandhi started 'Project Tiger' there were close to 3,000 tigers in India.
Kale added four decades later after hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent, many 'brilliant officers' have proclaimed their own greatness, and huge government bureaucracies have been created, there are purportedly only 1700 tigers left.
"So what have they done in the last 40 years with such claims to greatness? Unless of course they will claim that their job is to preside over the eventual and gradual extinction of the tiger," Kale remarked.
"Intelligent tourism plays a critical role in protecting the wilderness and all its endangered species. In place of open gypsies and cars, medium-sized buses, with a closed body and sliding windows may be used for park excursions. But why a complete ban," asks veteran conservationist Gopal Thosar.
A bulk of poaching cases this year has been reported from buffer areas of tiger reserves across the country, leaving conservationists and forest officials to wonder about the effectiveness of the ban on tourism in the big cat's core habitats.
Activists also pointed out that tourism provides additional protection as well as revenue to forests and poachers would have a field day if the core areas are no longer under constant watch. Officials also feared a large number of forest guards would be out of job as a result of the ban.
Of the 18 tiger poaching cases this year, eight have been reported from the buffer or territorial zones. An official of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) said all recent poaching cases were in its buffer zones. "A tiger was found dead in a metal trap at Padampur in April, a place close to Palasgaon buffer area of TATR. Similarly, the Borda case in which the body of a tiger was found cut into 10 pieces was also in the buffer area," the official said.
Madhya Pradesh chief wildlife warden H S Pabla said tourists are the additional eyes of the forests. "In 2011, the state received a whopping Rs 16 crore as entry fee from different national parks, which is almost equivalent to funds sanctioned by the Centre for forest protection. And these funds were utilized to pay salaries to the staff engaged in forest protection. Banning tourism means we will be left with no other option but to sack them from their jobs, as we won't have funds to pay their salaries. Eventually, we will leave the forests at the mercy of the poachers," Pabla said, adding that 500 forest guards camp inside Kanha alone every day for patrolling.
He said tiger body parts were seized in south Balaghat division, a territorial area of Kanha National Park, earlier this year, the only such case in MP in 2012. "Better protection measures are needed in buffer zones since most poaching cases are reported there. But for that, we need enough central funds for rural infrastructure planning, as buffers also have villages," Pabla said.
Uttarakhand's Kotabagh, from where the year's first case of tiger body parts seizure was reported, also happens to be an adjoining territorial division of Corbett Tiger Reserve. Wildlife biologist Dharmendra Khandal, who has been working in Ranthambore for years, said there is virtually no buffer zone in the park. "All possible tiger areas have been converted into critical habitats. If we have to follow the court verdict, there is no scope of tourism here," he said, adding tourism in Ranthambore provides livelihood to at least 5,000 families around the park. "If we withdraw tourism from the core areas, the villagers will start depending on the forests again, which might lead to a spurt in poaching activities," Khandal said.
Echoing his view, Wildlife Protection Society of India's programme coordinator Tito Joseph said it was high time the government decided whether it wants poachers or tourists inside the forests.
October 16, 2011
By Debasree De.
The author is a UGC Junior Research Fellow at Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
The profit motive and integration into larger global capital markets drive the Indian State's tribal and forest development programmes. The laws and the "new welfare models" are used by the State to retain its authority, power and supremacy over resources, alienate people from their land and way of life, and create and sustain capital markets. The governmental strategies, ominously identical to innumerable development interventions of the recent past have proven to be completely disastrous for the tribals and have completely failed as an approach to forest conservation. The sceptics further argue that visibly engaged in the path of development as India is today, contemplation and implementation of various 'development' projects for mining, dams, establishment of special economic zones, etc. will be on the rise and that can only mean that there will be more cases of displacement leading to further expropriation and pauperization of the non-elite tribal people. Pro-poor institutional reform may well resemble scaffolding, of which the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is a plank.
Civil society has been largely indifferent to the economic plight of the tribals. It has even been argued that the governmental model of development might simply misfire, even threaten the subaltern perception of "development". This view has provided a comfortable escape route for the government. Moreover, the Governors of the states with scheduled tribal areas had been largely ignorant of their discretionary powers under the Fifth Schedule read with Article 244 of the Constitution of India. The Governors have no idea about their constitutional role. The cumulative result of neglect over decades has been widespread exploitation and tribal unrest. Hindustan Times reported, 'Gradually the crowd swells in the clearance amid the Dandyakaranya forest-then comes the song of rebellion – the audience: 600 odd tribal men, women and children breaks into applause…Naxal guerillas armed with self loading guns and 303 rifles are sprinkled in gathering…they showcase the evils of mining planned by the Chhattisgarh government. The fear of displacement is spreading among tribal population…fear new roads and railway links will lead to displacement…spoil the fragile ecology of the region.'  The Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram said that, "We hope ambiguity over power of Governors under 5th Schedule read with Article 244 of the Constitution of India is put to rest. This provision may be leveraged for improving governance and ensuring more effective targeting of tribal development projects." 
The Planning Commission set up an Expert Group on "Development Issues to deal with the causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism" in May, 2006. In the Chapter – 5 of the report few recommendations have been given towards effective implementation of protective legislation. It states that, "The State's response to continued unrest and social dissension in areas predominated by scheduled castes and tribes was to formulate three protective laws…These three Acts are the Provisions of the Panchayats Extension of the Schedule Areas Act 1996, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006…It is necessary to build up an impregnable protective shield of the State, against multi-faceted exploitation of these communities. This should be done by effective implementation of the existing constitutional provisions, protection of civil rights and SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act laws and programmes in place for this purpose." 
The contradiction of Indian politics lies in its espousal of a development model that is anachronistic in nature. The paradox of a developing society is that it borrows from a model that has outgrown itself in the West, but is parcelled out to the East. Just as under-development in the Third World was once perceived to have been created. The emergence of what can be called the civil society movement in India is largely linked to this new brand of modernity that is beyond the pale of its classical industrial design.
Forest Rights Act, 2006: The Supreme Court of India in an important case held that the tribals have a definite right over the forests and any sort of forest diversion or eviction should have their informed consent. Following suit, in an affidavit to the Apex Court, in June 2004, the Government of India made a significant admission by holding that "historical injustice" [Expression used in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, July 21, 2004. This historical injustice was perpetuated by the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 (the 'WPA') and the Forest Conservation Act 1980 (the 'FCA'), which identified environmental protection and recognition of the rights of tribal communities as mutually irreconcilable objectives. Other legislative and executive measures in the post independence era continue to perpetuate these differences.] had been done to the tribal forest dwellers of the country, which needed to be immediately addressed by recognizing their traditional rights over forests and forest land . What made this admission particularly crucial was its acceptance that colonial perspective on forest management had failed and alienated a large chunk of the forest dwellers, especially tribals from forests and forest-based livelihood options. Besides, it could not have come at a better time—just months after the eviction of about 168,000 families from over 150,000 hectares effected by the May 2002 Government order of eviction of forest encroachers. This led the Government of India to introduce the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 in Parliament on 13 December 2005. This legislation is now widely accepted and revered as a major step towards achieving social justice and a milestone in the tribal empowerment process .
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, henceforth FRA, is a major opportunity to strengthen economic and social security of tribes and other forest dwellers. The act also endeavours to facilitate their political empowerment by giving them a basis to participate in various processes so that they have an equal stake in as citizens of this country. Awareness of their rights ensures that they do not remain mere afterthoughts and that they assume visibility after decades of shadowed existence. The act aims at restoring traditional rights of forest dwellers and maintaining ecological equilibrium so crucial to the forest areas. Further, the act talks about the preservation of sustainable livelihoods of the tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
FRA, 2006 marks a clear paradigm shift in the approach of the Ministry of Environment and Forests towards the Scheduled Tribes, who were hitherto held responsible for the destruction of forests. So far, the plight of the tribals, whose economy was associated with forest resources, had been largely ignored and disregarded with utter contempt. In the FRA, the government of India, for the first time legally acknowledges the historical injustices suffered by adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers whose rights were inadequately recognised, during the colonial period as also in independent India in the form of displacement, land acquisition, establishment of biosphere reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. It also acknowledges that these communities are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystems. The Economic Times wrote, 'The Government admitted that its writ no longer ran in parts of 160 districts affected by…extremism…States like Chhatisgarh demanded special attention to these areas to 19 drives away the feeling of alienation of locals. Interestingly Mr. Singh (the Prime Minister) called for stern policing to reign in the menace but he sounded a word of caution against 'brutalisation of the state'… local tribals themselves could be involved in these (development) schemes and not only should they be given the rights to use forest produce but also some kind of certificate of ownership should be handed out…' 
Political activists, political parties, civil society organizations and a section of the State represented by the bureaucracy perceive the FRA as a milestone in the history of tribal social movements. It has won for the tribal forest people their long overdue rights over "forest land". On the ground, reports say, the process of implementation is facing several problems. At the root of these problems is the unwillingness of the forest department to let go of forest land under its jurisdiction. It is clear there is a conflict over forest land rights between the forest department and the tribal-forest people. Now, the questions may arise, is the FRA of 2006 designed to undo over 100 years of injustices to the forest dwellers and tribal people? It is important to remember that justice is appropriate and adequate only if it measures up to the depth and scale of injustice(s), both as perceived by the one who has suffered and what it is in actuality. With what facts did the bureaucrats, academics, planners, political and civil society activists, who applauded this Act for "undoing historic injustices", perceive the depth and the scale of injustices? The truth is that history shows the depth and scale of injustices and damages to be no less than genocide and ecocide. It is worth considering that the FRA has been legitimized by claiming that it is in the interest of people. However, it appears to be in the interests of the alliance between State and market. This is reflected in the form and content of the FRA 2006 .
Now, let us see what are the ideals of the FRA of 2006? The preamble states,
…Forest rights were not adequately recognised in the consolidation of State forests during the colonial period as well in independent India resulting in historical injustice to forest dwelling Scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers…It becomes necessary to address the longstanding insecurity of tenurial and access rights of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers including those who were forced to relocate their dwellings due to development interventions.Thus, FRA is "an Act to provide for a framework for recording the forest rights so vested and the nature of evidence required for such recognition and vesting in respect of forest land" (p 1). This, it is posited, will prepare the ground for "sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance…while ensuring livelihood and food security…" (p.1). In reality, the debate preceding this Act made it very clear that the "rights" to "forest land" seek to regularise "encroachments". As Bela Bhatia (2005) argues,
Some opponents [The opponents referred to here are the forest department] of the bill claim that it intends to distribute 2.5 hectares of land to each adivasi nuclear family in the country. This creates a fear that entire forests will then get wiped out. In reality, the bill only seeks to recognise what is already there, i. e, to give land rights to people who have been cultivating forest land for generations (before 1980), often in circumstances where the forest was 'reserved' without due settlement of traditional land rights. In fact, the entitlements to be created under the bill are consistent with the existing policy framework, in particular the '1990 guidelines' formulated by the ministry of environment and forests (and partially implemented). These guidelines put in place a procedure for the regularization of so-called 'encroachments' that occurred prior to the cutoff date of 1980. The basic purpose of the bill is similar and the same cut-off date is being used .This appears to be in contradiction to the preamble of this Act. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the total area of forest land under "encroachment" (whether by adivasi or other communities) is 13 lakh hectares. This is less than 2% of the recorded forest area in the country . Some environmentalists, academicians, judiciary, media and interestingly even some free marketers seemed to share the perception of the forest department that these people were "encroachers" or 'thieves'. One reason for such misconception is ignorance of the fact that it was precisely because of the forest centralization and nationalization that these people lack property rights and in the eyes of the law have become "encroachers". Opposition from the forest department is explicable, as this law curtails its century old power and monopoly and gives power to the people over forest land as well as forest resources.
Other myths that were propagated against this Act were that this legislation would give away forest lands to the tribals and thus destroy the forests. Both these perceptions are wrong. One, this legislation does not distribute forest lands to the tribals, but only recognizes their long occupation rights and gives titles to them. Another misconception that it would harm the forests is also contrary to the reality. In fact, it was the centralized management of forests that created the tragedy of the commons in the first place. Therefore, the FRA of 2006, by regularising "tribal encroachment", is in fact consolidating State encroachment. How deep does State encroachment damage the forest and injure the forest dwellers and tribal people? The history of State encroachment will give us a clear understanding of the brutality involved in the processes of primitive accumulation of capital and also the depth and scale of injustices and damages.
The Act recognises individual rights to land being cultivated in forest areas prior to 13 December, 2005 [FRA 2006, Section 4(3)]. It also recognises community rights and other traditional customary rights [FRA 2006, Section 3(a to m)] of the community to the forest such as nistar rights, rights to ownership, collection, use and disposal of minor forest produce (MFP), rights to traditional water bodies and their produce (NTFP), grazing rights (both settled or transhuman) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities, rights to biodiversity, cultural diversity, rights of habitation, and any other customary rights not mentioned. More importantly, it accords legal rights and confers powers to the communities to protect and manage their community forest resources in accordance with their traditional modes of conservation and also protect the forests, wildlife and biodiversity [FRA 2006, Section 3(i) and Section 5]. Some of the significant provisions are as follows:
• Community tenures of habitat for Primitive Tribal Groups and pre agricultural communities
• Rights over disputed lands in any state where claims are disputed
• Rights for conversion of pattas/leases/grants issued by any local authority or a state government on forest lands to titles
• Right of settlement and conversion of forest villages and other villages in forests (recorded, notified or not) into revenue villages
• Right to protect, regenerate, conserve, or manage any community forest resource, which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving
• Any other traditional rights that are enjoyed by the forest dwelling STs or traditional forest dwellers (except the right of hunting, or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal)
• Right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where STs and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers have been illegally evicted/ displaced from forest land without receiving legal entitlements. 
The act also prescribes duties such as protection of habitats, wildlife and biodiversity and provides a framework for forming various committees to ensure that the people themselves have a say in the governing of the forests they know best. Gram Sabhas and forest rights committees are necessary to build a system of administration that provides a means to protect and uphold these inalienable rights. The legal framework therefore is essential to operate within to ensure social justice and community development goals are met.
Under the FRA, the government is also supposed to divert forest land for development schemes and programmes such as schools, hospitals, anganwadis, irrigation, roads etc.
Deprivation of Tribals in FRA: The Forest Rights Act though lauded by tribal rights activists and politicians and scholars, it has been criticized on several accounts not only by hard-core conservationists but also by others. The major arguments can be categorized into three parts – intention related, structure related, and impact related. We discuss these in the following paragraphs.
The intention related argument is, what explains the State's absolute reluctance in implementing community rights? The answers can perhaps be found in an analysis of recent forestry development plans and programmes announced by the state, which can be described very simply as being an agenda of monoculture plantations and afforestation, which need to be critically examined to unravel the implications on tribals. According to S. Gopalakrishnan, the compulsion to design and pass the Act might be located in the demands of a political constituency. It might also be located in the recognition of the growing threat of left-wing insurgency . The Act, however, goes beyond addressing the immediate issue of survival and security for forest dwellers that might be needed to pacify those marginalized and even persecuted by "development". As Gopalakrishnan notes, it is also "an entry point into a deeper, wider politics of struggle over resources" . For this reason, the representatives of the state (especially the Forest Department) have worked to restrict the scope of the FRA to tenurial security and subvert the provisions of community rights and the rights against arbitrary displacement .
There are several concerns and problems regarding these developments. First and foremost is the issue of governance. The process of providing funds directly to the joint forest management committees for afforestation, created and controlled by the forest department, completely bypasses and undermines the pre-eminent constitutionally determined governance role of local bodies like the gram panchayats/gram sabhas. In scheduled areas, in particular, the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) – (PESA) – Act, 1996, and the FRA, are powerful legislations. They spell out the role of the gram sabha in governing the forestscape, in tune with the customary practices of local communities, fulfilling livelihoods, cultural aspirations, and exercising the right to traditional conservation and protection strategies. According to these laws the decisions to implement or reject mono-crop plantations and afforestation programmes that threaten to displace traditional livelihoods, biodiversity, associated indigenous knowledge and cultures and local ecosystems, should rest with the community and the gram sabha.
With the promulgation of FRA, the age-old debate "tigers or tribals" has been revived once again. Sanjoy Patnaik has pointed out that, one of the most contentious issues influencing the realisation of the forest rights within a protected area has been the declaration and demarcation of the "critical wildlife habitat" (CWLH), a crucial aspect of the Forest Rights Act. But, there is a deliberate misunderstanding leading to improper interpretation of the Act. The Government has decided to evict villagers from the villages falling in the way of the special tiger corridor. One of the crucial threats to the proper implementation of the Act is the interpretational freedom of the Forest Department. Whether it is occupation on forest land or demarcation of CWLH or ownership over Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs), the Forest Department does what suits its interests best. Amidst all of its good work, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) should be careful about not allowing state bureaucracies to enjoy such extraconstitutional freedom .
FRA gives individual property rights to the tribals and other forest dwellers on the forest lands under their occupation for cultivation and dwellings and community rights on forest resources, including right to manage them, and total ownership rights on Non Timber Forest Produces (NTFPs). A most significant feature of the Act and one of the main grounds of opposition of the environmentalists to the legislation is that it gives all these rights to the people living inside the Protected Areas (Sanctuaries and National Parks) too. They believe that these Protected Areas should be kept inviolable and all the people living inside should be evicted and resettled outside. This is a very serious contention and we have to examine it in depth. Today, there are 600 odd Protected Areas in the country. More than 4 million people live in these Protected Areas (PAs). A question here is how and where these many people could possibly be resettled. A most important point here is most of these PAs have been declared without any rhyme or reason and no scientific surveys have ever been carried out before their declaration. In fact, there is no provision in the relevant legislation [Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972] in this regard. The government can declare any government land as Protected Area, if it thinks it suitable for wild life preservation, irrespective of the fact whether any wild life worth the name exists there or not, let alone any wild life on the verge of extinction.
One of the most important structure related arguments is, FRA sought to mix oranges with apples. While tribals and forest are synonymous and one cannot be separated from the other, same is not the case with the "other traditional forest dwellers" i.e. non-tribals. Non-tribals usually do not take livelihood activities in forest by choice. However, by legitimizing their occupation of the forest lands under the guise of "Other Traditional Forest Dwellers", the Act negated the spirit of the various safeguards available to the members of the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution and other relevant laws of the country. Rather than improving the lot of the tribals, the Act will lead to conflict of interest between the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers .
Now, the question arises, who rules in disputes? According to the FRA, the gram sabha plays a key role in determining who has what rights to which forest resources. This is an attempt to devolve decision-making powers to the grassroots level, that is, to the hamlet level. However, the rules direct that in any area under dispute that is not a "scheduled tribal area", the decision-making authority will be the panchayat ("revenue" village council), not the gram sabha. (Each panchayat comprises several gram sabhas.) If a forest-dweller village is only one among many villages that form a panchayat, where the non-forest dwellers are the majority, the forest-dweller village might find it difficult to get its rights approved if the others oppose. This is because corrupt officials and village elites could easily exploit the vulnerability of forest dwellers in such a council and manipulate the council resolutions in favour of vested interests, or against forest dwellers.
The next question is who conserves forests? The FRA authorizes forest-dweller communities to protect forests against destruction. Instead of defining this key right and the environmental interests of forest dwellers and specific powers to implement them, the government has said in the rules that a forest-dweller community should conserve forest and forest resources as a "duty", closely following an official "working plan" prepared by the Forest Department. The rules do not clarify whether forest dwellers will be consulted on a free, prior, and informed basis in formulating such working plans or what actions they could take to halt or regulate forest destruction by any external agency, including government departments and private companies. This means that the forest-dwelling communities could become tools in the hands of the Forest Department and private companies that would like to exploit resources in forest areas.
Further, the Act defines a 'generation' to mean a period comprising of twenty-five years. Hence, in order to qualify for forest rights under the Act, the 'other traditional forest dwellers' must prove that they have primarily resided in and depended on the forest or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs since the year 1930. The inclusion of such a restrictive provision would render the claims of nomadic tribes and members of the more vulnerable non-ST forest dwelling tribes, who may have relied on other means of livelihood since the year 1930, ineligible . So, how do people prove they are eligible? The rules do not clarify how the two intertwined criteria of eligibility — forest dwellers should reside in forests and should prove 75 years of family residence in the area—will be applied to evicted forest dwellers and those whose land have partially been taken over for public purposes. Without such clarifications, it is easy to apply the two criteria to exclude many forest dwellers from the purview of the FRA, as many of them do not possess documentary evidence to prove that they have been forest dwellers at least for three generations (75 years). Furthermore, there is no rule that provides a way for "other traditional forest dwellers" to prove that they qualify for the rights guaranteed by the legislation. According to Archana Prasad, the Act fails to provide any guidance on the nature of admissible evidence to prove the beneficiaries' claims to forest rights. Given the stringent time requirement, which requires proof of residence for a period of seventy-five years, which would commence in the pre-independence period, it was argued that if oral evidence and spot verification were not included as admissible evidence, a large section of genuine claimants would be deprived, as government officials would rely on colonial records for the settlement of rights .
Some significant observations came out regarding FRA during my field survey in Purulia district of West Bengal. I had visited many blocks as well as villages. Tribals of Kheria Sabar community mainly live in several villages of Balarampur block in a scattered way. Berma, Sirgi villages are some of them. The Kheria Sabars are hunting-gathering tribe. The women of the community make broom-sticks. Despite the Centre having introduced the FRA in 2006 to issue pattas, the district administration here is yet to do so for most of the Kheria Sabars due to its lackadaisical attitude. The officials of land and land revenue department of the district informed me that there are 2, 600 Kheria Sabar families residing in various blocks of the district have not received forest land pattas till today. 1, 700 Kheria Sabar families had applied for land, but only 250 families were given land. The officials said that necessary announcements to inform the community were not made by the local administration and, as a result, most of the Kheria Sabars could not submit their tribal certificates in time. The local people alleged that they had faced tremendous hardships to get their land even after submitting tribal certificates, along with other necessary documents, to the local administration. Because of the harassment they faced in the application process, they had stopped visiting the local panchayat. It was also found that a section of Kheria Sabar families could not apply for land as they were not provided with tribal certificates. And it is not possible to apply for the pattas without tribal certificates. It is shocking because Kheria Sabars are one of the oldest tribal communities in the country who were notified by the British as "Criminal Tribes" and later in 1952 they got denotified. Therefore, it is quite evident that the developmental schemes announced for their welfare have not reached them .
A leading news paper has recently published a report reflecting this aforesaid problem of the FRA provision. Jangal Mahal of West Bengal is the most conspicuous instance of undevelopment and is deadly affected by the extremism. But still hundreds of thousand adivasi-banabasi people have been declined their forest rights inspite of applying for the pattas of the forest lands. Overall 1, 35000 applications have been submitted by the tribal people claiming for the pattas of the forest lands amongst which only 27,000 claims have been fulfilled so far. So, more or less 80,000 claimants have been deprived of their rights. In fact there is no initiative taken by the government to collect information about the rest of the 25,000 claims in the Maoist infested areas of West Midnapur, Purulia and Bankura districts. The officials have put some alibis to legitimise their negligence and they are, 1) the claimants have failed to prove them as tribals, 2) many claimants for one single piece of land, 3) the very piece of land can not be regarded as forest land and 4) the forest land is not the only source of livelihood for the claimants, etc. The forest rights committee has all the power to consider or reject any plea. The rampant corruption is thus vitiating the real aim of FRA .
B.K. Roy Burman has drawn our attention towards another structural ambiguity relates to the population precisely covered by the Act and the Rules. Rule 24 of the Rules published on June 19, 2007 had provided that (i) the village level institutions or Gram Sabha may perform the duties falling under Section 5 of the Act, on behalf of holders of any forest right, and they shall be empowered to (a) prepare a plan for the protection and management of community forest resources; (b) prepare and adopt norms including institutional arrangements for the protection and regulation of access to and sustainable use of the community forest resources; (c) prepare norms for community wild life management; (d) evolve procedures to protect, conserve, regenerate or manage the resources while protecting the interests in forest rights of vulnerable groups and women; (e) evolve methods for monitoring and implementing such norms. In sub rule (3) of Rule 24, the draft Rules further provided that in case there was a conflict between a decision of a Gram Sabha and a user group in regard to exercise of rights under clause (1) of sub section (1) of Section 3 of the Act, the decision of the Gram Sabha would prevail, while ensuring that forest rights of vulnerable groups and women were not put to any disadvantage. The draft Rules thus vested substantive legal and administrative instruments with grass-root level bodies to ensure that the tasks entrusted with the forest rights holders were implemented. But the Rules finally framed do not contain any of these provisions.
The impact related argument is that with such afforestation programmes, adivasi communities are confronted with multiple displacements – from land, productive resources, biodiversity, and knowledge. Now, the question arises, what is the difference between community rights and developmental facilities? Section 3 (1) of FRA provides for various community rights of access and use of forest resources whereas section 3 (2) provides for diversion of forest land for developmental facilities like schools, roads, irrigation, primary health centres, anganwadis, fair price shops, electric and telecommunication lines, drinking water etc. A separate guideline has been issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on 18th May 2009 on the procedure for diversion of forest land for developmental facilities provided under section 3 (2). The process of enclosing these commons, and pushing adivasi and other forest dwellers out of the forests, has been going on for the past 200 years and continues unabated. Each time the adivasis lose their land and forests due to the State's power which takes control in the name of the "larger public good", they are forced to sacrifice land, and cultivate monoculture plantations, to compensate for the earlier loss. The State destroys and the adivasi has to pay for it over several generations. The communities depend on the forest – the land, the water bodies and the grazing areas to sustain their livelihoods. Acquiring these forestlands for afforestation purposes would deprive forest dwellers and adivasis of some or all of their lands and adversely affect their livelihoods and basic needs. They are neither informed, nor compensated for these acquisitions.
So, where do displaced people go? Indian courts have clearly stated that if a forest-dwelling community is physically displaced because of a development project, the state should make all possible arrangements for the community to continue its livelihood and maintain its cultural identity elsewhere. This is one of the core forest rights that are bestowed on forest dwellers by the FRA. The rules published in 2008 neither elaborated this key right of forest dwellers nor stipulated how a development project that would displace them could rectify such a breach of their rights. Instead, the central government has handed over the responsibility of formulating the rules for dealing with land acquisition and resettlement of displaced forest dwellers to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The ministry strenuously opposed the draft bill of the FRA on the grounds that such rights would increase human activities in forests and thus harm the sensitive ecology of forests and wildlife (Empower Poor 2008). Although the FRA was enacted, the ministry has not changed its opposition to the awarding of forest rights to forest dwellers. Such attitudes and opposition to the environmental rights of forest dwellers make them vulnerable to the actions of a powerful central ministry, which does not recognize their livelihood and survival rights. Moreover, the ministry could interpret the FRA narrowly in formulating the rules, which could limit their enjoyment of forest rights.
For example, let us look at the status report of West Bengal government, recently published by The Statesman, on the Totos – the smallest primitive tribal group in the state – that tells a dismal story. The report, prepared by the state backward classes welfare department, reveals that Totos – who inhabit a remote area known as Totopara in Jalpaiguri district and have a population of just 1,346 – were evicted from a 400-acre stretch of government land vested to them over a 100 years ago, and that they have been cultivating. No steps have been taken so far to return the land to the community though the Forest Rights Act came into force in 2006, precisely to correct such wrongs. The status report also points out that land owned by the tribal group is being encroached upon by other communities illegally and the tribals are being forced to dispose of their land at a throwaway price.
According to the report, the first settlement survey was conducted at Totopara in 1989-94. Totopara mouza was reserved and restricted for the exclusive use of the Totos. At that time, land in the entire mouza was given on lease to the Toto chief who accepted it on behalf of the community. The land was cultivated with the go-ahead of the Totos' traditional tribal panchayat. In 1951, the total area of Totopara was earmarked at 1996 acres during the Census Survey; in the settlement in the same year the figure was 1999.96 acres. However, individual ownership of land came into effect in Totopara in 1969 and the area was "unreserved". During the settlement operation in the same year, a total of 347.43 acres of land was recorded with 89 Totos families. The residual part of the land (about 1600 acres) was brought under the District Collector's possession. Even, after the settlement, however, the Totos continued cultivating a portion of this residual land on the bank of the river as it was a very fertile stretch of about 400 acres located on the south-east side of the mouza. In 1981, the forest department took possession of the land and evicted Toto cultivators. In 1982, the demarcation of the land was done in favour of the forest department. Senior officials at Writers' Building said that in 1981, the Totos were considered as encroachers in the ambit of the Forest Conservation Act and the government was forced to evict them. But they had no answer when asked why the government had not initiated steps to return the land to the tribal group as it can now do so under the Forest Rights Act.
Apart from the eviction from the government land, the Totos are facing a real threat from encroachers. Though transfer of tribal land is illegal, the report found that more than 72 acres of Toto land have been transferred to outsiders at a very low price. As a result, at least 88 Toto families have become landless on their own soil. And the government has not lifted a finger to protect them .
Most forest-dwellers who will gain rights under the FRA are in forests outside protected areas. Conventionally, in most reserved forests and many protected forests, customary and traditional rights to land and resource use have been inadequately recorded and granted. In states such as Orissa several hundred thousand hectares of land traditionally occupied or used for farming (including shifting cultivation or jhum) have simply not been recorded as such. On the contrary, they have been declared forest lands under government management in an ad hoc manner. On the other hand, there are also huge areas of actual encroachment in forest areas, both by very poor people and by powerful commercial interests. The FRA provides for recognition of "encroached" lands for scheduled tribes who can show occupation up to December 2005 and for other forest dwellers who have occupied the lands for at least three generations (seventy-five years). The conservation implications are, again, mixed. In Orissa, tribals of the Jagatsinghpur area have issued a notice that any attempt to take over their forest lands would be a violation of the FRA; this is a bid to stop the entry of the powerful POSCO Corporation, which wants to set up mines and industries there .
Another criticism of the FRA has been that it provides a uniform solution for the nation, whereas the local realities are vastly different in different regions. This, according to some, leaves an opening for groups with a vested interest to take advantage of the situation. Different recommendations for different regions would have been ideal, but the Joint Parliamentary Committee only had three months, which is not enough time for regional discussions and recommendations .
FRA, 2006 has not taken into account the fact that hundreds of forest dwelling scheduled tribes face charges under different provisions of the draconian Forest Conservation Act of 1980 for accessing minor produce. Although the FRA ensures tenurial security and legitimizes the scheduled tribes' ownership over the minor forest produce and their role in the conservation of forest, it failed to address charges/prosecution pending against the tribals under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and Indian Forest Act of 1927 with retrospective effect. There is no provision in the FRA act providing that cases under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 against the forest dwelling scheduled tribes for accessing minor forest produce would be dropped or closed. The British government, in fact, introduced the Criminal Tribes (CT) Act in 1871 and the nomadic forest tribes, like the Kheria Sabar, were brought under the purview of the Act for the British's vested interests. After Independence, the Centre repealed the CT Act and introduced the Habitual Offenders Act in 1959. Because of this new Act, the society and the administration consider the tribal people as 'born criminals'. There has been no attempt to repeal or to bring about changes in the existing Act or bring the tribal communities outside the purview of the Act. Police continues to treat them as suspect under the equally harsh Habitual Offenders Act. At present 37 cases are pending before the district court and Calcutta High Court against various panchayat leaders and government officials on charges of misappropriation of funds meant for the development of the Kheria Sabar community . There has been no significant improvement in the living condition of these communities.
There were 2, 57,226 forest cases pending against 1, 62,692 tribals between 1953 to 30 June 2004 under Sections 26, 33 and 41 of the Indian Forest Act 1927 pertaining primarily to illegal felling of trees for domestic use and ferrying of wood by bullock carts in Chhattisgarh as on 8 November 2005 , and 2,531 such cases in Orissa as on 10 March 2005 . The bias of the police and the forest department against the tribals is well known. In Jharkhand, a criminal case was registered against 4 minor tribal boys of Matrukha village in Giridih district of Jharkhand. The minors have been accused of destroying over 541 plants in the Purnanagar forestation area by bringing their cattle to the forest area for grazing. When the First Information Report was registered on 18 September 2002, one of the accused Sone Lal, son of Gushaw Kishku of Matrukha village was just over 14 months old. On 18 December 2006, the minor boy, along with his father, appeared before the court of Judicial Magistrate A.K. Pandey applied for bail and filed a discharge petition. By the end of the 2006, the case was pending .
It is important to understand what makes this act special for the communities. If it gives anything to the communities that they did not have earlier. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 always had a provision for 'Village Forest' area of forest earmarked for meeting the forest related subsistence use of the villagers. But these areas never got notified; their management was never handed over to the respective communities. Forest Department neglected these forests, did not invest in their management and gradually village forestlands come under cultivation due to increased population pressure. Post independence rights on forest products were given through PESA and Biodiversity Conservation act, but both have not become operational on the ground because either rules are not formed, or the accountability is not yet fixed. Regularization of cultivated forestlands, thereby transferring the ownership to the tiller, too has taken place quite frequently after independence. Similarly, legislative provisions have been made to convert 'forest villages' into 'revenue villages', except for the villages that are still not surveyed. Thus, what has been lacking in all these cases is 'implementation', in spirit as in reality. There is skepticism about FRA as well. Multiplicity of agencies involved in its implementation, confusion is inherent in fixing accountability. While the land belongs to forest, Tribal Ministry has been instrumental in bringing in the legislation, while implementation is to be executed by the Revenue Department along with officials from Tribal and Forest departments. So, the questions may arise, who is responsible for informing the communities regarding this act? Who is to ensure that along with the rights, responsibilities are also communicated to the communities? 
FRA was eagerly welcomed as a victory and a significant step forward in the large struggle of adivasi communities, seeking sovereignty over resources. For adivasi women in particular, it was supposed to give new meaning to gender and environmental justice: the right to a way of life and livelihood, and acknowledgement of their knowledge and capacities to nurture the forestscape and ecosystem.
In the execution of FRA rule [Chapter 1, Section 2 (g)], it becomes evident that it bears some serious flaws. The Forest Rights Committees were set up at the panchayat level headquarters and not the village level, which necessitated that women walk for miles to participate in the deliberations. Villages do not even get the information since no inhabitants from those areas are a part of the Forest Rights Committees. This physical distance effectively ensured poor participation of women in the actual proceedings. This exercise undermined the local democratic process of governance.
There was also no transparency about the methods used for division of land. Since the women did not personally apply for claims, they were not aware of the administrative structure prescribed in the law; a majority have had no interaction with government officials due to this reason. The women were largely unaware of the role played by the Forest Rights Committee and the Gram Sabha in processing the claim. They did not even know how to process a claim. The nature of every woman's claim was land and land rights. The women did not know the clauses well enough. Community grazing lands and all the provisions under community land was unknown to them and the government has done nothing to change this ignorance therefore experience with the officials was reported to be satisfactory or favourable when there was proper involvement with government mechanisms. So, the additional rights are necessary to uplift the women from their situation.
In the campaign on FRA, the government machinery very deliberately chose to publicise individual rights to land, but was completely silent about the more powerful and crucial component of collective/ community rights to the forests. The government was also silent on the powers given in the act to the gram sabha for governing, managing and protecting the forests. Instead of being an empowering tool that strengthened the collective democratic rights of forest dependent communities the act was reduced to becoming yet another "government programme" of land distribution. The community rights have not been awarded properly.
Sagari Ramdas has said that, most women do not understand the government's bifurcation of the two kinds of land. The government has two separate forms to claim for individual and community rights and the forest department and the Tribal Development authorities have neglected ensuring that awareness campaigns are accessible and effective. The threat of eviction has made every person paranoid and thus many women are compelled to believe that individual rights are more significant. The State's agenda of suppressing the process of communities claiming their collective/community rights to the forests, as also the manner in which it exercises the power to impede the process of adivasi women to obtain rights becomes clear subsequently. It appears as if the tribals were uniformly "rejected". This negates the very essence of these community rights embodying the adivasi relationship with ancestral territories and customary use. The ministry of tribal welfare has clearly chosen to ally with the forest department which is reluctant to lose its "property – the forest", particularly jointly protected and managed forests .
One of the main failings of the FRA is that it provides for the issuance of deeds to single men or married couples. The Act has provisions for joint ownership i.e., property can be on either spouses name, it is silent about the rights of single women, whether widowed, deserted or not yet married. The dominant assumption is that developmental plans targeted at a given household ensure that the benefits of the resources are shared equitably. The power structures at the household level have been undermined while conceptualising women's access to schemes and their level of articulation about rights.
Conclusion: FRA of 2006, therefore, did not emerge from unproblematic and consensual deliberations. Rather the struggle to pass the act, and to keep the key elements intact, was fraught with intense contestation. Central to the process of policy development in this case has been the use of collective pressure through an unusual coalition of interests spread across the states of India, which ultimately paved the road to the new institutional settlement. The case of the FRA throws light on the importance of 'protest' or 'campaign' politics in India, and the simultaneous importance of activists to form effective 'coalitions' involving individuals and groups in order to influence the course of legislation. While the preponderance of politics in matters of economic decision-making gets highlighted, the process underlying the legislation of the FRA also reveals the multi-actor and multi-layered (given the federal structure of the Indian polity) nature of the Indian State and the significant role of intra-state politics in promoting or thwarting pro-poor institutions . The ability of tribals to defend their rights and livelihoods has therefore been very weak, and recourse to protests, both peaceful and violent, constituted one of the few avenues through which to seek redress .
To be precise, then, this Act would also in this respect neither benefit the tribal communities nor enhance conservation, but would promote only the interests of the non-tribals. The Act is silent on restoration of lands from non-tribals, occupied prior to the cut-off date . The Act is rather silent about the plight of the more than one third of the tribal population who have lost their land over the period. They have been left with no option but to go further into the forest – or to migrate elsewhere. In the Indian context, the political economy of land and the societal power relations associated with its possession need not be emphasized. Hence, any attempt towards achieving developmental objectives should necessarily commence from restoration of the now alienated erstwhile tribal occupied lands. Equally important is the need to ensure a participatory approach and an efficient delivery system.
Ever since the FRA was enacted, the Government of India and state governments have been claiming it as a major victory for tribal peoples' rights in India. But this law will not be able to resolve tribal peoples' human rights and livelihood issues without similar or greater advancement in law and administration in other areas (which are intrinsically linked with tribal peoples' rights) such as land acquisition, development-induced displacement, and political autonomy. The proposed National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 was a positive step toward improving land laws that affect tribal people directly .
The greatest value of the FRA is that it effectively recognizes rights of forest dwellers who previously were considered encroachers on state land. The Forest Department had powers to expel them without paying appropriate compensation, and such expulsion had taken place mainly when they did not have sufficient evidence to prove their right to ancestral land . Corrupt practices, bribery, and tribal vendetta often influenced such actions. Unfortunately, however, the FRA has not taken into account those thousands of forest dwellers who face charges under different provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for illegal felling of trees, encroachment, and collecting minor produce. There is no provision in the FRA that would close or drop such charges against forest-dwelling scheduled tribes. There were 257,226 such cases pending against 162,692 forest dwellers and other tribal people under sections 26, 33, and 41 of the Indian Forest Act 1927 by 2004 .
Although the FRA seeks to strengthen forest conservation by giving powers to forest-dwelling communities to protect forests, such powers are in addition to not instead ofthe powers that the Forest Department and other government agencies possess, thereby creating room for a clash between communities and the Forest Department. This can happen if forest dwellers disagree with government's decisions to transfer forest land to development projects. In this regard, the FRA stipulates that the government should obtain the "free informed consent" of affected forest dwellers and their village councils for such transactions (section 4(2) [e]). However, a framework for how to obtain free, informed consent of affected forest dwellers has not still been formulated by the government. The marginalized status of forest dwellers and other tribal populations, the powers vested in Forest Department officials regarding forest management, and the higher political, economic, and social status of the rural elite will make it difficult to formulate such a consultation frame work and to apply it.
Section 4(2) (d) of the FRA stipulates that the displacement of tribal people may occur only after a resettlement or alternative package has been prepared in consultation with them. The package must ensure that affected communities will have appropriate income and livelihood sources. It will fulfil "the requirements of such affected individuals and communities given in the relevant laws and the policy of the Central Government." Section 4(2) (f) says that "no resettlement shall take place until facilities and land allocation at the resettlement location are complete as per the promised package." This is a great improvement in land acquisition, compensation, and rehabilitation of project-affected forest dwellers. However, its application in association with the Land Acquisition Act of 1984 could lead to the payment of only cash compensation at the statutory value of land decided by the local government administrators, which is often substantially lower than the replacement cost of such property.
Several agencies—both private and public—have challenged the FRA in high courts in several states and in the Supreme Court of India on several grounds. In March 2008, the Supreme Court told the central government and the state governments to respond to several petitions that challenged the constitutional validity of the FRA in permitting allotment of forest land to tribal people. The argument is that land administration is under the purview of a state government; therefore, the central government cannot allocate or decide the size of such allocations. In another petition, a group of wildlife organizations—Wildlife First, the Nature Conservation Society, and Conservation Trust—challenged in 2008 the legal and constitutional validity of the FRA on the grounds that it violates the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed under Article 14 ("The State shall not deny to any person equality or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India") and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution, as it is against the principles of "sustainable development". It will take several months, if not years, to know how the judiciary views such challenges based on a broad interpretation of the fundamental rights of citizens.
Notes and References
1. Hindustan Times, May 14, 2006
2. 'Did Governors' Ignorance Fan Maoists?' The Statesman, October 19, 2010
3. Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas, Report of an Expert Group to Planning Commission, Government of India, New Delhi, April 2008. Chapter-5, No. 5.1.1, P-69 http://www.planningcommission.gov.in/reports/publications/rep-dce.pdf downloaded on February 15, 2011.
4. Bhullar, Lovleen. 'The Indian Forest Rights Act 2006: A Critical Appraisal', Law, Environment and Development Journal (2008), Vol- 4/1, p. 20, available at http://www.lead-journal.org/content/08020.pdf downloaded on April 12, 2011
5. Patnaik, Sanjoy, Regional Centre for Development Cooperation, (2007): PESA, the Forest Rights Act, and Tribal Rights in India, Proceedings: International Conference on Poverty Reduction and Forests, Bangkok, September, available at
http://www.recoftc.org/site/fileadmin/docs/Events/RRI_Conference/Proceedings/Paper_18_Patnaik.pdf downloaded on April 14, 2011
6. Economic Times Friday, April 14, 2006
7. Savyasaachi (2011) 'Forest Rights Act 2006: Undermining the Foundational Position of the Forest' in Economic & Political Weekly, April 9, pp. 55-62
8. Bela Bhatia (2005), "Competing Concerns", Economic & Political Weekly, November 19, pp. 4890-93
9. Bela Bhatia, op cit; Mihir Shah (2005), "First You Push Them In and Then You Throw Them Out", Economic & Political Weekly, November 19, pp. 4895-99
10. Available at http://www.forestrights.gov.in downloaded on March 25, 2011
11. Gopalakrishnan, S. (2010) Forest Areas, Political Economy and the "Left-Progressive Line" on Operation Green Hunt, Radical Notes, May 30, 2010
12. Gopalakrishnan, S. (2010), Rights Legislations and the Indian State: Understanding the Nature and Meaning of the Forest Rights Act. Briefing prepared for mass organizations, distributed by SRUTI, available at http://www.sanhati.com downloaded on April 16, 2011
13. See the Campaign for Survival and Dignity website http://www.forestrightsact.com/component/content/46?task=view, and http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=69078 downloaded on April 16, 2011.
14. Patnaik, Sanjoy (2007): PESA, the Forest Rights Act, and Tribal Rights in India, Proceedings: International Conference on Poverty Reduction and Forests, Bangkok, September downloaded on April 14, 2011
15. 'India's Forest Rights Act of 2006: Illusion or Solution?' Embargoed for: December 15, 2006, Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN), New Delhi. http://www.aitpn.org/Issues/II-09-06-Forest.pdf accessed on April 16, 2011
16. 'Tribals Feel Betrayed by Rights Law', The Hindu, December 20, 2006
17. Archana Prasad, 'Survival at Stake', Frontline, January 12, 2007, page 4
18. Data collected from my field study in Purulia.
19. Anandabazar Patrika, April 14, 2011
20. No Forest Rights Act cover for dwindling Totos, The Statesman, April 4, 2011
21. The Times of India, August 10, 2008
22. Kothari, Ashish, Neema Pathak and Arshiya Bose (2009) Forests, Rights, and Conservation The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, India, Kalpavriksh Pune/Delhi, July
23. 'Repeal Habitual Offenders Act: Leaders, social activists', The Statesman, September 16, 2011
24. Over two lakh forest cases against Chhattisgarh tribals to be withdrawn, The Hitavada, November 11, 2005
25. Naxalite bodies demand probe into police firing, The Statesman, March 14, 2005
26. Criminal case against 5-year-old, The Hindustan Times, December 21 2006
27. Ghate, Rucha (2009) Paper Presented at WOW-IV June 3-6, Working Group The Politics of Authority, Land, and Natural Resources: Broadening the Analysis Decentralizing Forest Management: Pretense or Reality? In the context of Forest Rights Act in India – SHODH, Nagpur, available at http://www.indiana.edu/~wow4/papers/ghate_wow4.pdf downloaded on May 9, 2011
28. Ramdas, Sagari R (2009): Women, Forestspaces and the Law: Transgressing the Boundaries, Economic & Political Weekly, October 31.
29. Bose, Indranil (2010) 'How did the Indian Forest Rights Act, 2006, emerge?', Discussion Paper Series Thirty Nine, May 2010 Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth (IPPG) Discussion Papers available at www.ippg.org.uk downloaded on April 14, 2011
30. Guha, Ramchandra (2007) 'Adivasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy', Economic and Political Weekly, August 11.
31. Saravanan, Velayutham (2009) "Political Economy of the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006: Conflict between Environment and Tribal Development", South Asia Research, Vol-29(3), New Delhi: Sage Publications, pp.199–221.
32. The National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 was approved by the lower house of Parliament in 2009. It specifically addresses the land rights of tribal people and special procedures that should be followed in acquiring their territories. In February 2009, the bill was rejected by the upper house of Parliament.
33. Leelakrishnan, P (2002) Environmental Law in India. Delhi: Lexis Nexis Butterworths
34. Ghosh, Soumitra. 2006. India: The Forest Rights Act, A weapon of struggle. National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) and Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Delhi, India
4 Responses to "Tribals and Green Governance: Forest Rights Act, 2006"
- Dibyendu Dalal, MCA Says:
- October 22nd, 2011 at 9:53 am
- I am congratulating the author of this article for making such a vivid study on a very important and contemporary issue. The article is quite brilliant and I wish her all the success.
- ANJAN GHOSH Says:
- January 24th, 2012 at 6:46 am
- I am working in Govt. of West Bengal in Land Reforms Dept. and Editor of a bi-monthly periodical "BHUMI BARTA" published by our Officers Association. Ihave gone through your instant article and it is a excellent write up. There was some instances of preservation of forest dwellers right in 'Chhotonagpur Tenancy Act " which was enacted by foreign ruler and after that everything was bleak.Would you be kind enough to provide our publication some of your article on this aspect.
- Debasree De Says:
- April 2nd, 2012 at 12:59 pm
- I am really obliged having some wonderful comments. I will surely write in Bhumi Barta. Please let me know your address or email id for correspondence.
- Sushovan Dhar Says:
- May 8th, 2012 at 2:35 am
- Your article is really impressive. We are also working on the issue of forest rights. I wanted to contact you. My email id is : email@example.com
What is the Forest Rights Act about?
Millions of people live in and near India's forest lands, but have no legal right to their homes, lands or livelihoods. A few government officials have all power over forests and forest dwellers. The result? Both forests and people die. This Act recognises forest dwellers' rights and makes conservation more accountable.
Why is this law necessary?
What are called "forests" in Indian law often have nothing to do with actual forests. Under the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be "government forests" without recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the forest and so on.82% of Madhya forest blocks and 40% of Orissa's reserved forests were never surveyed; similarly 60% of India's national parks have till today (sometimes after 25 years, as in Sariska) not completed their process of enquiry and settlement of rights. As the Tiger Task Force of the Government of India put it, "in the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme."
What are conditions like in the forest areas?
Because of this situation, millions of people are subject to harassment, evictions, etc, on the pretext of being encroachers in their own homes. Torture, bonded labour, extortion of money and sexual assault are all extremely common. In the latest national eviction drive from 2002 onwards, more than 3,00,000 families were driven into destitution and starvation. In Madhya Pradesh alone, more than 125 villages have been burned to the ground.
The situation is so bad that the then Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in his 29th Report, said that "The criminalisation of the entire communities in the tribal areas is the darkest blot on the liberal tradition of our country."
Why were people's rights not respected when these forests were declared?
The Indian Forest Act, 1927, India's main forest law, had nothing to do with conservation. It was created to serve the British need for timber. It sought to override customary rights and forest management systems by declaring forests state property and exploiting their timber. The law says that, at the time a "forest" is declared, a single official (the Forest Settlement Officer) is to enquire into and "settle" the land and forest rights people had in that area. These all-powerful officials unsurprisingly either did nothing or recorded only the rights of powerful communities.
The same model was subsequently built into the Wild Life Protection Act, passed in 1972, with similar consequences.
Mistakes may have been made, but surely these laws are the best way to protect our forests?
It is not just people who have lost. The very purpose of the Forest Acts was to convert forests into the property of a colonial department; and when you convert an ecosystem into someone's property, there will always be stronger claims to that property than conservation. To destroy a forest today requires nothing more than either a bribe to the local forest officer or an application to a committee in Delhi. The results include:
The loss of more than 90% of India's grasslands to commercial Forest Department plantations.
The destruction of five lakh hectares of forest in the past five years alone for mines, dams and industrial projects;
The clearing of millions of hectares of forest for monoculture plantations by the Forest Department;
Recent proposals to privatise "degraded" forest lands for private companies' timber plantations.
Moreover, the forest laws destroyed all the community management and regulation systems that had existed before, forcing people to choose between either abandoning the forest entirely or living as 'criminals' within or near it. To this day it is a criminal offence for you or I to plant a tree in a reserved forest; but it is legal for the Department to fell the entire forest so long as it has Central government permission.
What does the Forest Rights Act do?
The Act basically does two things:
Grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
Makes a beginning towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation.
Who is a forest dweller under this law, and who gets rights?
There are two stages to be eligible under this Act. First, everyone has to satisfy two conditions:
Primarily residing in forests or forest lands;
Depends on forests and forest land for a livelihood (namely "bona fide livelihood needs")
Second, you have to prove:
That the above conditions have been true for 75 years, in which case you are an Other Traditional Forest Dweller (s. 2(o));
That you are a member of a Scheduled Tribe (s. 2(c)); and
That you are residing in the area where they are Scheduled (s. 4(1)).
In the latter case you are a Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribe.
What kind of rights do forest dwellers get under this Act?
The law recognises three types of rights:
No one gets rights to any land that they have not been cultivating prior to December 13, 2005 (see section 4(3)) and that they are not cultivating right now. Those who are cultivating land but don't have document can claim up to 4 hectares, as long as they are cultivating the land themselves for a livelihood (section 3(1) (a) and 4(6)). Those who have a patta or a government lease, but whose land has been illegally taken by the Forest Department or whose land is the subject of a dispute between Forest and Revenue Departments, can claim those lands (see section 3(1)(f) and (g)).
There is no question of granting 4 hectares of land to every family. If I am cultivating half a hectare on December 13, 2005, I receive title to that half a hectare alone; and if I am cultivating nothing, I receive nothing. If I am cultivating more than 4 hectares without documents or a dispute, I receive title to only 4 hectares.
The land cannot be sold or transferred to anyone except by inheritance (see section 4(4)).
The law secondly provides for rights to use and/or collect the following:
a. Minor forest produce things like tendu patta, herbs, medicinal plants etc "that has been traditionally collected (see section 3(1) (c)). This does not include timber.
b. Grazing grounds and water bodies (sections 3
c. Traditional areas of use by nomadic or pastoralist communities i.e. communities that move with their herds, as opposed to practicing settled agriculture.
Right to Protect and Conserve
though the forest is supposed to belong to all of us, till date no one except the Forest Department had a right to protect it. If the Forest Department should decide to destroy it, or to hand it over to someone who would, stopping them was a criminal offence.
For the first time, this law also gives the community the right to protect and manage the forest. Section 3(1) (i) provide a right and a power to conserve community forest resources, while section 5 gives the community a general power to protect wildlife, forests, etc. This is vital for the thousands of village communities who are protecting their forests and wildlife against threats from forest mafias, industries and land grabbers, most of whom operate in connivance with the Forest Department.
How are rights recognised?
Section 6 of the Act provides a transparent three step procedure for deciding on who gets rights. First, the gram sabha (full village assembly, NOT the gram panchayat) makes a recommendation - i.e who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce is collected, etc. The gram sabha plays this role because it is a public body where all people participate, and hence is fully democratic and transparent. The gram sabha's recommendation goes through two stages of screening committees at the taluka and district levels. The district level committee makes the final decision (see section 6(6)). The Committees have six members - three government officers and three elected persons. At both the taluka and the district levels, any person who believes a claim is false can appeal to the Committees, and if they prove their case the right is denied (sections 6(2) and 6(4)). Finally, land recognised under this Act cannot be sold or transferred.
Truths and Falsehoods about the Forest Rights Act
MYTH: The Act will distribute 4 hectares of land to every tribal family. The Act will destroy all of India's forests.
MYTH: People will take over and destroy forests through this Act. Every law is misused and this will be used for land grabbing.
MYTH: The Act removes all protection from forests.
MYTH: By allowing people to stay in national parks and sanctuaries, the Act will make it impossible to protect wildlife - especially tigers.
MYTH: The Act will distribute 4 hectares of land to every tribal family. The Act will destroy all of India's forests.
This Act will not give a single square inch of land to anyone. The Act only requires the government to give legal recognition to lands that people have already been farming since prior to 2005 (and, in the case of non-ST's, for the past 75 years). Sections 3(1)(a), 4(3) and 4(6) of the Act state that people will only receive rights to "land under their occupation" since prior to December 13, 2005, up to a ceiling of 4 hectares. I.e., if I am a tribal cultivating half an acre of forest land as on December 13, 2005, I will receive title to exactly that half acre - no more. If I am cultivating 10 hectares, I receive title to four of those; and if I am cultivating nothing, I receive title to nothing. No one will receive rights to new lands. Moreover, the titles recognised under this Act cannot be sold or transferred to anyone (see section 4(4)).
Why is such a step necessary?
What are called "forests" in Indian law often have nothing to do with actual forests. Under the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be "government forests" without recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the forest / land - and often without surveying whether it was forest at all. 82% of Madhya Pradesh's forest blocks, 20% of AP's government forests and 40% of Orissa's reserved forests have never been surveyed. Similarly 60% of India's national parks have till today (sometimes after 25 years, as in Sariska) not completed their process of enquiry and settlement of rights. As a result millions of people are subject to harassment, evictions, etc, on the pretext of being encroachers in their own homes. In the latest national eviction drive from 2002 onwards, more than 3,00,000 families were driven into destitution and starvation. In Madhya Pradesh alone, more than 125 villages have been burned to the ground. As the Government of India's Tiger Task Force put it, "In the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme."
The Act tries to end this by ensuring that the rights of forest dwellers to the land, minor forest produce, community resources etc. that they are using are recorded and given legal sanction.
MYTH: People will take over and destroy forests through this Act. Every law is misused and this will be used for land grabbing.
Section 6 of the Act provides a transparent three step procedure for deciding on who gets rights. First, the gram sabha (full village assembly, NOT the gram panchayat) makes a recommendation â€" i.e who has been cultivating land for how long, which minor forest produce is collected, etc. The gram sabha play s this role because it is a public body where all people participate, and hence is fully democratic and transparent.
The gram sabha's recommendation goes through two stages of screening committees at the taluka and district levels. The district level committee makes the final decision (see section 6(6)). The Committees have six members â€" three government officers and three elected persons. At both the taluka and the district levels, any person who believes a claim is false can appeal to the Committees, and if they prove their case the right is denied (sections 6(2) and 6(4)). Finally, as already said, land recognised under this Act cannot be sold or transferred.
Compare this with the present system, where encroachment on forest land requires a bribe to the forest guard and nothing more. Legal diversion of forest land requires permission from a committee in the Central government. Any person who objects inside a forest area is promptly deemed an "encroacher" and thrown out, even when they sometimes have papers proving their ownership. This is not just true of villagers. Many of India's top wildlife scientists are facing criminal cases filed against them when they objected to illegal or corrupt practices in the Forest Department.
The question is simple: which system is more likely to promote land grabbing - a public process where ordinary citizens have a voice, or granting absolute powers to people sitting behind closed doors? We have already seen the results of the existing system.
MYTH: The Act removes all protection from forests.
The Act does not in any way remove protection from forests. The existing laws will continue to apply, as section 13 of the Act clearly states. Indeed, the Act makes conservation stronger by giving a power to communities to protect forests as well. This power is in addition to, not instead of the power that the Forest Department and other government agencies have.
In fact it is these agencies who have become the biggest threat to forests, as a result of a colonial system of forest management that had nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with securing British control over timber.
In fact, it is illegal for you or I to plant a tree in a reserved forest; but it is legal for the Forest Department to fell the entire forest so long as they obtain appropriate permissions.
This absolute power naturally means corruption. Enormous areas of forest are destroyed as a result of legal and illegal connivance by the forest authorities; between 2001 and 2006, more than five lakh hectares of forest were legally diverted (i.e destroyed) for mines, industrial projects, etc. We would challenge Vanashakti or anyone else to show us cases of large encroachers, resorts or industrialists ever being evicted in the post 2002 eviction drive, when so many forest dwellers lost their homes and some lost their lives.
There is no process of appeal for any of these projects, with the only check currently being the Supreme Court. How many of us have the wherewithal to approach the Supreme Court? By granting communities the right to protect forests, the Act makes it possible for communities themselves to stop destruction of forests.
Many communities are already doing so. Like in the famous Chipko movement of Uttarakhand. Like the Dongaria Kondhs in Lanjigarh, Orissa, who are fighting jail, arrests, beatings and police firings to stop a mining corporation from destroying their forests. Several of their leaders have been killed. Like the 10,000 or more villages in Orissa and several thousand in Jharkhand who are protecting their forests on their own, often from the forest department.Like the thousands of villagers in the Nilgiris who have fought police time and again to stop government-supported land grabbing. And like the thousands of ordinary citizens who raise their voice every time environmental destruction happens.
MYTH: By allowing people to stay in national parks and sanctuaries, the Act will make it impossible to protect wildlife - especially tigers.
Recognising rights and deciding whether people should stay in an area are two entirely different things. Just as any of us can be resettled at any time to make way for a highway, dam or other project, so too can people be resettled out of national parks and sanctuaries even after their rights have been recognised.
In fact, the Act specifically provides a detailed procedure by which this should be done (section 4(2)). In the past, this kind of resettlement has been done in a highly unscientific, corrupt and coercive manner. Many environmentalists, including the Tiger Task Force, have sharply criticised these practices, since they alienate local people, lead to violent conflict and often result in people secretly returning because they have no choice if they want to survive.
Hence, in a joint statement to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Forest Rights Act, several conservationists (including WWF-India, Foundation for Ecological Security, Samrakshan Trust, etc. and India's top lion expert Ravi Chellam) said resettlement should only happen:
"through a site-specific open process, with involvement of ... multi-disciplinary experts, [which] should take place through democratic mechanisms including local community representatives. ... [Otherwise there will be] legal battles, physical resistance, and enhanced conflict. This will seriously harm both conservation and people's rights."
On the basis of this joint statement, the Committee recommended a site specific, participatory and scientific procedure for relocation that has ben incorporated in section 4(2) of the Act. The Wild Life (Protection) Act has been amended on the same lines with regard to tiger reserves. These laws now say that resettlement will only happen if:
1.People's rights have been recognised (without this, people cannot demand proper rehabilitation);
2.It is shown that continued community presence will lead to irreversible damage to wildlife;
3.The community agrees to the resettlement package being offered;
4.Full facilities are provided at the resettlement site.
This is in keeping with international standards, such as those promoted by the IUCN - the world's largest conservation organisation.
Tiger Conservation: A Disaster in the Making
Tigers are India's national animal. But instead of protecting them in the most accountable, transparent and effective manner possible, the forest bureaucracy has been intent instead on taking over more power for itself.
In 2006, after the Government of India's Tiger Task Force pointed out that violation of communities' rights was both unjust and dangerous to tigers, the Wild Life (Protection) Act was amended to provide for a balanced process of scientifically deciding on tiger habitats and resettling people from these areas. Has the government complied? No. The forest bureaucracy did not allow them to. Instead, it has gone on a land grabbing spree again, endangering both people and tigers.
For more details, see below.
Campaign press statements:
Struggle Against Forest Bureaucracy in Tiger Reserves; Massive Demonstration in Tamil Nadu.
Summary Note on Situation in Tiger Reserves July 2009
Details of Illegalities in Tiger Reserves
The Current Situation
The state of the forest rights struggle, based on reports from our member organisations and friendly groups.
For summary reports on the national situation, see:
The Council for Social Development's Summary Report on the Implementation of the Forest Rights Act (September 2010). This contains a comprehensive and somewhat detailed overview, as well as action points required.
Chargesheet on violations of the Forest Rights Act by the government (October 2009)
the statement issued after the Nagpur meeting (June 20-21, 2009)
"Issues of Struggle" (January 2009),
If you require more details or updated information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will let you know the details of the organisation to contact.
For State-wise situation reports, see below. This information is collected on a regular basis but is not always updated here. If you require up to date information, please see above.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli
What Does All This Mean?
There are three issues that come up in the majority of the States. Here's an explanation of the terms and the problems that are being referred to.
1. WHAT KIND OF GRAM SABHAS ARE BEING CALLED: The "gram sabha" (village assembly) is the first tier of decision-making in the Act. But which gram sabha? In reality gram sabhas can be called at three levels. A typical gram panchayat includes multiple revenue villages, which each in turn include multiple hamlets. Hence the gram sabha can be called either as the assembly of all voters in a gram panchayat, as the assembly of all the residents of a revenue village, or as the assembly of the residents of a hamlet. The movements had long demanded that the gram sabhas for this Act should be at the level of the actual settlements - the hamlets, or at most the revenue villages - and not at the artificial administrative level of the gram panchayat, where they would be very large and make democratic functioning impossible. In the final form of the law, in Scheduled Areas, hamlet level gram sabhas are required, while in other areas the law permits revenue village gram sabhas.
2. THE FOREST RIGHTS COMMITTEES: Each village is to elect a committee of 10 - 15 people from its own residents as a "Forest Rights Committee", which will do the initial verification of rights and place its recomnendations before the gram sabha (which makes the decision).
3. COMMUNITY RIGHTS: Contrary to common conception, the Act is not solely or even primarily about individual land claims. Many of the rights, such as the right to minor forest produce, are to be exercised as a community. The most powerful sections of the Act concern the community right to manage, protect and conserve forests, the first step towards a genuinely democratic system of forest management (sections 3(1)(i) and 5). In most areas the State and Central governments have made concerted efforts to deny or ignore these community rights and to instead treat the Act as if it is purely about individual land rights. A key aspect of the struggle is to use and expand these community rights and powers.
Two primary problems have emerged in the forest rights struggle in MP. First, the Forest Department continues to interfere in the process of people attempting to claim rights under the Forest Rights Act. Across the State, the Department is insisting that claimants must either produce "fine receipts" (as was done in Satna district) or demanding that claimants must be on the Department's list of "eligible encroachers" made in 1994. Both these demands are brazenly illegal and amount to reducing the act to the earlier, Forest Department-controlled "guidelines" which did not address the issue at all. Moreover, the signatures of the chairpersons and secretaries of Forest Rights Committees have been taken by the Department on blank 'rejection' forms. The Department has also tried to convert Joint Forest Management Committees into Forest Rights Committees.
Secondly, community rights continue to be neglected, and claims for such rights are being actively discouraged. While both community rights forms and individual rights forms have been distributed, in some areas such as Betul district, the community rights forms were at first marked "N/A" by government officials. Despite this, several hundred villages had demarcated and asserted their powers and rights over community forest resources in 2008. In August 2009, villages in Burhanpur, Khandwa, Khargone and other areas began a process of demarcating their boundaries and issuing notices to the Forest Department for its illegal attempts to take over management of their community forests. While demarcating their community resource boundaries, villagers found that in many cases the forest department has encroached upto 1.5 kms inside revenue village boundaries. On 14th October, the SDM Satna and officials of 2-3 blocks agreed to come and see the forest department's encroachment themselves and accepted that this was illegal. They promised to distribute 1200 claim forms for community rights by 25th October and to support their claims for CFR rights. However, this has not been done by the promised date. Despite the tehsildars promising that they will accept evidence admissible under the Rules, no claim for individual pattas has been accepted without a FD fine receipt. Further, in many cases the pattas have been issued for far lesser area than that claimed without assigning any reason for the same.
In the area in which the Bargi dam displaced have settled, the response is somewhat different in each of the three districts. In Jabalpur district, pattas have been given in forest villages without claims being invited by FRCs and those holding original leases given by the FD have been excluded. In Seoni district, 1500 pattas have been issued on the basis of ST certificates signed only by the Panchayat. In Mandla district, pattas are being issued only to those who have ST certificates signed by higher officials and claims of those from an area allocated for building a heavy water plant are not being considered.
Meanwhile, clashes between forest officials and people have continued, with several persons getting killed in such clashes in Burhanpur district alone in 2009. The forest department has burnt the hut of a villager in the last week of Ocober 2009.
Implementation of the Act in Madhya Pradesh began in February 2008. In Schedule V areas, Forest Rights Committees were formed at the revenue village level, while in other areas - Burhanpur District in particular - the Committees were formed at the panchayat level. Madhya Pradesh's Panchayati Raj Act provides for hamlet level gram sabhas in scheduled areas, and the Tribal Secretary's May 27th, 2008 orders on the FR Act have required that such hamlet level gram sabhas should take place where people demand them (provided that very recent settlements cannot have their own gram sabhas). Unsurveyed villages are facing difficulties in being included in gram sabhas or in forming Forest Rights Committees of their own, especially in Burhanpur. The government had also ignored the requirement for one third women's representation on the Forest Rights Committees.
As in other States, there were problems getting ST certificates, which were partially resolved by orders to the SDM's to issue the certificates in a time bound manner (people were earlier being directed to their sarpanches). In some unsurveyed and forest villages, people are being required to get signatures from local forest guards for being issued ST certificates, who are refusing and claiming that the residents are "encroachers." The May 27th, 2008 orders state that lack of an ST certificate should not be grounds for rejecting a claim at the stage of filing the claim; instead, when the claim reaches the Sub-Divisional Committee level, the SDO should be required to verify the antecedents and issue the certificate as per normal procedures. If the person is found ineligible, the claim may be rejected at that stage.
Harassment in protected areas and Tiger Reserves and pressures to relocate are continuing.
Notwithstanding rapid implementation of the Act in the State, the atrocities have not come to an end. As a result of evictions in July 2008, the Jabalpur High Court issued three orders in various cases barring any further evictions till the rights recognition process is complete - as per section 4(5) of the Act. Directions have also been issued requiring that the status of lands disputed between the Revenue and Forest Departments - particularly the "orange areas", which total more than 1.2 million hectares - should also be sorted out immediately.
The Madhya Pradesh government had continuously announced January 31st, 2009, as the deadline for filing claims, but this is illegal and was protested against by the local organisations. Press reports indicated that June 30, 2009 was fixed as a new "deadline", and it now appears that, in keeping with the President's address to Parliament, the new 'deadline' for completion of the process is December 31, 2009.
The local organizations have now decided to challenge the many illegalities taking place during implementation. As a first step, villagers are demarcating their customary village boundaries which are well known and demarcated in western MP. Where forest department encroachment is found on village land, notices are being sent to the department to remove their illegal boundary pillars within 15 days otherwise they will be demolished by the villagers. FRCs have also started writing to SDLCs asking what has happened to the claims they have submitted with copies to the District Collector and the State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC). Simultaneously, depots from which the FD is continuing to sell bamboo are being gheraoed to prevent such sales as now the villagers have ownership rights over bamboo.
No conflict is being faced with JFM committees in western MP as most of them have become dormant and the villages are predominantly tribal. There are problems with JFMCs in mixed villages where non-tribals have come from outside.
In Rajasthan, interference by the Forest Department is a serious challenge. Atrocities have occurred in Rajasthan, including the eviction described here.
FRCs were constituted in almost all of the villages in Scheduled Areas in south Rajasthan (including protected areas), mostly between April 8th and 17th and again in May 2008. In some villages where FRCs were wrongly constituted, the Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan succeeded in getting them re-constituted. In scheduled areas, gram sabhas of revenue villages are being called, whereas in non-scheduled areas, gram sabhas of the panchayats are being called. There have been several cases of illegal eviction of forest dwellers without giving them a chance to claim their rights under the Act.
Post formation of the Committees initially there was little action from the government side. There was a severe shortage of claim forms, with the government declaring that only claim forms carrying official stamps will be accepted - but not printing sufficient claim forms afterwards. Community rights forms were entirely unavailable. These problems were partially remedied following new orders in July 2008.
In June 2008, the Tribal Welfare Department issued a circular that confusingly referred to 9455 families identified in a 1995 government survey as "eligible" persons (i.e., under the circulars of that time, as people who had been identified as having cultivated land from prior to 1980). The circular stated that for these persons, claims should be submitted before June 30th, and rights finalised before July 20th. This led to considerable confusion and was in violation of the Forest Rights Act. After meetings with organisations, this circular was clarified by orders stating that the Act's provisions should be complied with for all applicants. It was also expected that more forms would be made available and the lower officials were directed to provide forms immediately to all those who demand them. However, the Forest Department continued to insist on the old circular.
On July 25th, 2008, around 5,000 people joined a Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan dharna against these illegalities. At the end of the day the Tribal Commissioner gave a written commitment that:
1. Forms for both community rights and individual rights will be freely and properly distributed. Only after the forms have been distributed will the three month period be deemed to have started.
2. The Forest Rights Committees should be allowed to function freely and trained. Earlier the Forest Department was attempting to take over the process in several areas.
3. The Forest Department had been treating pre-1980 claimants as eligible without verification and blocking other claims. The new instructions on this will now be reinforced.
Despite the Tribal Commissioner's assurances that the Act would be properly implemented, there was little improvement on the ground. In addition to continuing illegal evictions by the forest department, the state government issued a new 11 page proforma for filing claims (this was the third new form issued after Jan 2008). The new proforma required that verification of each claim must also be done by the Panchayat Secretary, the Sarpanch as well as the Forester which is totally illegal. In fact, the forms assume that the claimant is ineligible. Even the claim proforma is not being issued to claimants unless they provide evidence for their claims beforehand and OTFDs are being asked to produce 80 year old forest offence reports as evidence. In January 2009, following mass demonstrations, the government withdrew the 11 page proforma, but then later said that it would continue but officials would be required to fill the form instead of people. This has had the result of making people vulnerable to the officials and to demands for bribes. As of September 2009, the claims were mostly at the level of the Forest Rights Committees and the Sub-Divisional Level Committees. In the wake of mass demonstrations and rasta rokos on August 3rd, 2009, claims in some districts – such as Sirohi – have moved faster and there is less Forest Department interference. Some individual land pattas have been issued although many are for much smaller area than claimed. Haila village in Banswara district was able to harvest a good crop for the first time after several years as the FD used to destroy it every year in the past. Officials, however, are abusing GPS instruments to delay and distort the process of demarcating the land on the ground and preparing maps. A lot of irregularities are taking place at the SDLC level. The Panchayat secretary is proving to be the most obstructive and often sits on claims unless pressurized. In Baran district, out of 1250 claims filed by the Sahariyas, only 450 have been accepted. The district collector is refusing to consider new claims saying that the time limit of 3 months for filing them is over. The forest department is refusing to consider any CFR claims.
In the context of the focus on Maoism, elements in the media have begun spreading claims that south Rajasthan is likely to turn red in the near future and that the ground for this is being prepared by the movements like the Jungle Jameen Jan Andolan, simply due to their supporting people's struggle for their legitimate rights.
The claims process is not being taken up in the wildlife sanctuaries. For example, although shibirs have been organized in other areas, no shibir creating awareness about the Act was held in Kumbhalgarh sanctuary. In Kota district, a protected area was notified some five years ago, and the five villages within this area are being subjected to harassment and eviction notices. There are continued efforts to relocate villagers from Sariska Tiger Reserve, though such relocation is now illegal without the consent of the affected persons and full recognition of rights. In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, similarly illegal relocation has begun. At least one settlement, the village of Indala, was relocated in May 2009. Though the families had 60 – 70 bighas of land, no land has been provided and only cash compensation has been paid. As of June 2009, attempts were reportedly on to relocate seven more families, and rumours suggest that another 96 villages will be relocated. As the Act has not been implemented in the Reserve, this relocation is in clear violation of the law. While earlier relocations had taken place through pressure and threats, a rise in awareness among the communities since last year has forced the forest authorities to engage in negotiations in several of these settlements. However, the requirements of scientific proof of human impact and implementation of the Forest Rights Act are not being complied with, which section 38V(5) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act requires (even in cases of "voluntary relocation").
Mobilisation on community rights has taken place in large parts of the State, though the government continues to ignore them in implementation. The Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan estimates that approximately 90% of the claims filed so far have been filed as a result of its intervention.
By May 2008 FRC's had been constituted in most villages in Scheduled Areas. In most cases these committees have been constituted at the revenue village level, but in some cases where people have demanded hamlet level GSs in schedule V areas, those have also been permitted. FRCs were instructed in some areas to invite claims for community forest rights during the first month before accepting claims for individual rights. In some cases, claimants were not permitted to become FRC members due to misinterpretation of the rules.
Despite this initial rapid start to implementation of the Act, by early 2009, the forest rights struggle in Gujarat was again bogged down in the fight to have the law respected by the authorities. Forest Department interference has become common, though the tribal department had initially issued a number of positive clarifications of the FRA for government staff, including that the forest department should not be involved with liason work in the field due to the fact that it is an interested party. Gujarat government orders do however require that the Forest and Revenue Departments be present when the Forest Rights Committees undertake spot verification; in some areas the Forest Department has been refusing to cooperate, in a deliberate effort to block filing of claims. In fact this is an illegal requirement - the Rules only state that notice should be given to the Forest Department. Meanwhile the Sub-Divisional Level Committees are creating problems in some areas; in some cases they are insisting on production of fine receipts as proof of a claim, and in others sending rejected claim forms back to individual claimants rather than the Forest Rights Committees or the gram sabhas. As of October 2009, reports indicated that the Sub Divisional Level Committees had begun rejecting claims even when they are accompanied by fine receipts – only those on the FD's "eligible encroacher" lists are being accepted.
The Forest Department has also undertaken a massive program of creating new Joint Forest Management committees under the JBIC/JICA forestry project. This is being used to divide the community and buy off the more powerful elements in the local villages on to their side with the promise of generous funds. In some villages they have even made the Forest Rights Committee president the head of the Joint Forest Management Committee, in an effort to coopt him/her.
In non Scheduled Areas the process has largely not begun. Though it was scheduled to begin in November 2008, it has been further postponed due to lack of funds.
In some areas, particularly in the Dangs, the forest department is continuing to harass villagers and dig pits in their fields. Evictions and atrocities have continued in the Dangs, to the extent that in November 2008 the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests has directed an inquiry into four cases. On April 22nd, 2009, more than 150 forest guards attacked a family and beat up its members. More details are here. In other areas, the FD has cut down bamboo in order to prevent people from claiming rights over this minor forest produce, though the organisations have stopped them. At the state level, the Forest Department has continued efforts to imply that forest rights activists are Naxalites and to frame them in false cases. Recent media reports have alleged that the demand for 'Bhilistan' may be revived and the IB keeps ringing up the activists to keep an eye on their activities.
The Gujarat government has imposed some additional conditions for recognising rights over cultivated forest land. In particular, those owning some revenue land, or who have already received pattas to some forest land under the earlier 1992 GR, will be eligible to rights over a maximum of 10 acres including the land already in their name. The justification is that that is all the land required for meeting bonafide livelihood needs. There still appears to be some confusion on this matter. The government has also issued instructions that those holding jobs will not be eligible, though apparently an exemption is being made for those in "very small time" jobs.
The government had granted time till December 31st, 2008, for both individual and community claims to be filed, but this was extended to June 30th, 2009 and is likely to be extended further. Community rights mobilisations have taken place, and around 70% of villages where the Adivasi Mahasabha has presence have filed community claims so far, including over shared community forest resources. However, the government and the Forest Department have been engaging in a campaign intended to confuse people into equating community rights with the development rights under section 3(2) of the Act (to roads, schools, anganwadis, etc.)to prevent people from filing community claims to forests, minor forest produce etc.
In January 2009, the Gujarat government made an announcement that no titles to individual lands would be given and instead the land would remain forest land, while the rights holders would be given a "certificate" of their rights.
As of end of October, 2009, 1,40,000 numbered claim forms had been distributed. 663 claims for community forest rights and over 80,000 claims for individual titles had been filed. The SDLCs started accepting claims for individual rights after a lot of agitation by the Adivasi Mahasabha. Till now only 1388 individual claims have been accepted and 800 pattas issued only to those who could produce forest department fine receipts. There is tension in areas where a couple of organizations encouraged people to occupy forest land after the Act had come into force due to their claims being rejected.
The government has finally started accepting claims for community rights. Only two tehsils have provided details of how many of the claims have been accepted or rejected. Those rejected want to know the reasons for rejection. The Adivasi Mahasabha is planning to compile such official data to make it available to elected representatives. They have also mobilized the elected members of SDLCs and DLCs to become more active members of these committees. They have also approached the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs who is from Gujarat.
Though the State government claims to have recognised more than one lakh individual land holdings under the Forest Rights Act, the process has been implemented in an illegal and highly undemocratic manner.
FRCs were formed hurriedly in late February/early March 2008 without any dissemination of information about the Act to the people. In almost all areas, FRC's were constituted at the panchayat level, though in a few Scheduled Areas hamlet level gram sabhas were allowed to function after they applied for recognition. In many areas existing JFM Committees - the Van Suraksha Samitis - were converted to Forest Rights Committees in total violation of the law. The FRC's were never given clear information on what their task is and in many areas have been simply bypassed by the Forest Department. The State Level Monitoring Committee is essentially non-functional.
Despite the Tribal Department being the nodal agency, FRA implementation seems to have been largely controlled by the Forest Department in the initial months. Prior to June 08, only those living on forest land were considered eligible, and forms were only provided for those recorded under previous Forest Department surveys as living on forest land (only numbered official forms were being accepted for claims). After June 2008, this was changed, but the FD continued to dominate the process at the local levels.
Only claims for individual rights were accepted; in most areas forms for claiming community rights were not even distributed. The government had earlier announced that community rights would be recognised through a process during and after the monsoon, but this never took place. Organisations attempted to map community forest resources in six districts in order to preempt any move by the government to reduce or distort community resource rights. Reports suggested that FRCs had been made to sign on statements that they were not interested in claiming community forest rights without being aware of the law's provisions.
Much of this is not surprising, given that the orders issued by the State government (originally on February 8, 2008) were themselves in violation of the Act and the Rules. Thus, the first gram sabha meetings (called between February 25 & 29), were called by the Panchayat Secretary and not the Panchayat. Although claims for community forest rights are to be prepared by the Forest Rights Committees, the order asks the panchayat secretary to seek the assistance of forest and revenue officials, effectively making it a process controlled and managed by officials instead of the gram sabha, as provided for in the law. Gram sabha resolutions based on FRC recommendations were to be passed after giving an opportunity to officers/staff of concerned departments to be heard before forwarding them to the SDLCs. The gram sabhas were also expected to pass resolutions on relocation packages from critical wildlife habitats of sanctuaries and national parks even before these had been identified. The Panchayat secretary is to be the secretary of every FRC despite the rules providing that a villager is to be elected secretary. Claimants are asked to deposit their claims in the Panchayat office instead of to the FRC. Verification of claims was to start straight after their receipt by the panchayat secretary (instead of the FRC) after intimating revenue & forest officials. After verification of claims, survey teams for forest land are to be constituted by the DFO & for revenue land by the Collector. The SDO is to direct the FRC & Gram Sabha when to have their meetings.
Overall, thus, officials have tryied to control the process from start to finish - in violation of both the spirit and letter of the Act. Chhattisgarh has seen numerous protests against this, including a mass cycle rally in Raipur in which more than 2,000 people participated, as well as numerous dharnas, morchas and smaller protests in the districts. Dharnas were held in most districts between August 9th and 15th, 2008 and a large morcha in Raipur on August 15th, as well as subsequent protests in December, January, May and August 2009.
In October and November 2008 plans were announced to first grant titles to those who were on lists drawn up based on a prior survey to identify those in occupation of land prior to 1980. As this would create confusion and result in the Forest Department further controlling the process, this move was opposed by the local organsiations through protests in all districts in the State, resulting finally in the order being withdrawn and the Act process being allowed to continue.
In tiger reserves in the State, illegal efforts at relocating people prior to the recognition of their rights are underway. Protests had taken place on this in the third week of December 2008. Implementation of the Act in all three tiger reserves had not even begun.
There have been some positive developments in 2009 . Three state level meetings organized by activists created an improved environment. The focus has shifted to claiming rights over community forest resources. This has generated a positive and unifying community spirit and the villagers have got excited about defining their customary community forest boundaries. 108 CFR claims have already been filed in the state. Jhudpi, Bade jhar ke jungle and nistari jungles falling within revenue village boundaries are marked by boundary pillars on the ground and in revenue maps from Rajwada times. 50 to 55 stones normally mark the boundary of each village. The villagers have got very involved in re-identifying their village boundaries and the information about the importance of doing so is spreading from village to village. About 35 CFR claims have been filed from Mungla and Chownki blocks of Rajnandgaon district.
Details about the 1.90,000 approved individual claims (area applied for, area approved, total area, etc) were sought from the tribal welfare department. Their reply was that they didn't have the information and had asked the forest department for the information, requesting a copy to be sent to the tribal dept as well! A Forest official had stated that the department was approving claims of only those who could provide offense reports, i.e. reports from forest officials saying they had "encroached" the land prior to 2005.
More detailed information on the FR Act in Orissa can be found at http://www.fra.org.in
The government claimed to have formed more than 30,000 FRCs during two days in March, 2008, when gram sabhas were called. In reality FRC formation began around this time and continued up to June, at which time official figures said around 42,000 FRC's had been created. FRC's have been constituted at the revenue village level. There were attempts in some areas to convert the JFM Committees into Forest Rights Committees, but these were mostly stopped. Subsequently, the revenue secretary sent a letter to all district collectors asking them to give due importance to implementing the Act. It also said that the maps prepared by FRCs need not be to scale. The SDLCs would have the responsibility to prepare proper maps based on the received claims.
Organisations have made claim forms available in some areas where the officially printed ones had not reached. In most areas filing of claims was claimed to be largely complete as of mid-August, 2008. On closer perusal, however, it was found that many irregularities had taken place in the process of submitting claims to SDLCs and that the vast majority of claims were only for individual land pattas, with barely any claims for community rights. The Forest Department has been spreading misinformation about the Act and seeking to divide villages. Non-ST's were initially prevented from filing claims at all and continue to face difficulties. Tribals are facing acute problems in obtaining ST certificates.
There have also been many cases of the FD forcibly undertaking plantations on cultivated lands both under government programmes and a Japanese funded forestry project in total violation of the law. In several incidents in 2008, adivasis were severely beaten by FD supported goons for resisting such plantations. More recently, the FD has been enticing people to opt for JFM with the lure of Rs 15 to 20 lakh per village, instead of claiming statutory rights over their CFRs, as with the latter they won't get any funds.
In Sunabeda sanctuary and the Simlipal Tiger Reserve, the villagers are facing a lot of problems due to the forest department not permitting even awareness raising meetings. This has intensified after attacks by Maoists inside both the protected areas.
On July 23rd, 2008, the Orissa High Court issued an interim order barring grant of pattas or felling of trees until further notice (very similar to the February order of the Madras High Court), but allowing the process of the Act to continue. On July 2nd, an application by the petitioners for a complete stay on the Act had been rejected by the Court. Ironically, 45 minutes after issuing the interim order of staying grant of pattas, a different bench of the same High Court directed the State government to implement the Act and make a final decision on all claims within three months of receiving the claim. This order was ignored. The High Court interim order against grant of final titles initially led to demoralization and a lull in activities as an impression was created that the implementation of the Act had been stayed. However, the court later clarified that the order only barred issuing of titles and not other processes of filing claims and their verification. Finally, in August 2009, the High Court vacated its earlier interim order and allowed the implementation of the Act to proceed normally. Please see "Court Cases" for more information.
There have been numerous local and district level demonstrations throughout the State against violations of the Act and demanding its proper implementation, including a large rally of more than 5000 people in Bhubaneshwar on August 3rd, 2009.
CSD Orissa also launched a campaign for filing claims for community forest rights which has borne fruit. A large number of claims for community forest rights have been filed from all areas where organisations are active. At least in some of the districts, the SDLCs and even some DLCs have been very open and supportive, depending on the attitudes of the concerned IAS & ITDA officers. Unfortunately, however, verification of claims for CFRs is yet to take place and no CFR rights have yet been recognised. Government reports claim to have approved a number of community claims but these seem to be claims for land for development facilities under section 3.2. As in other states, officials continue equating claims for development facilities with claims for community forest rights.
In some cases, the SDLCs are sending verification teams consisting of forest, tribal and revenue officials, who are visiting the villages for on site verification of claims. This is apparently being done as FD staff did not show up when intimated by FRCs that they were planning field verification of the claims. During their initial visits, the verification teams have only dealt with claims for individual land rights while leaving out claims for community forest rights. This is being partially rectified now after persistent demands by local organisations.
Claims are also being verified in wildlife sanctuaries, although there continues to be forest department resistance to cooperate with the process in the tiger reserves. Titles for individual land have been granted at least in two wildlife sanctuaries (Badrama and Karlapat) but community rights are yet to be recognised in them. In 2009, interference had increased in protected areas and in areas slated to be granted for mining, where the government was not allowing the process to proceed. This is now beginning to change after MoEF issued it's order of July 30, 2009. This requires evidence that the process of recognition of rights has been completed and the consent of gram sabhas obtained for diversion of forest land for other uses, as pre-conditions for granting forest clearance.
Recognition of the rights of residents of unsurveyed villages which do not come within any Panchayat, conversion of forest villages into revenue villages and recognition of the habitat rights of Orissa's PTGs is lagging behind. OTFDs are also facing immense problems in proving 75 years of residence as there are hardly any records available for the purpose. A state level workshop focused on community rights in early September 09 has generated a positive response from the Tribal welfare department which has initiated a process for getting the rights of PTGs recognised with the help of micro-project staff and NGOs. The department has also promised to give greater attention to the recognition of other community rights including CFRs and NTFPs.
By late October 2009, over 43000 individual claims had been approved and 28,400 individual titles issued. A number of community rights are also stated to have been approved but it remains unclear whether these are actually land for development facilities or community forest rights.
A major problem being faced in Orissa is that all the finally approved claims or pattas are for revenue forest land and none for reserve forest land with the forest department. No maps are available for much of the reserve forest land as it has never been surveyed. Absence of maps is being given as the official reason for non-recognition of claims on such forest land. Due to increased govt pressure on officials to hasten the speed of issuing titles to contain growing tribal unrest in the state, in some areas officials have apparently issued titles over village forest land without following the claim making process.
There are also disturbing news about the impact of arrival of para-military forces in Malkanagiri district for anti-naxal operations is beginning to have on local tribals. 50 Sarpanches petitioned to the Collector to stop combing operations in their area as there weren't any naxals there. Instead of accepting their demand, 14 of the sarpanches were arrested. The para military forces are reported to have shot dead two Koya tribal youth who ran out of fear on seeing them. This has created such a scare in the area that the Koya tribals of 10 to 12 villages have abandoned their homes and lands and moved down to lower areas. Instead of having their rights recognised such people face losing the little they already had due to the government's 'Operation Green Hunt' being started..
In Maharashtra, implementation slowed greatly in 2009, while attempts to empower the Forest Department increased. The first gram sabhas were called in April 2008 in Nandurbar and Jalgaon districts, followed by other districts in May and June. Prior to these gram sabhas, the Tribal Welfare department organised a number of District and Sub-Divisional Workshops to spread awareness regarding the Act. It was also decided by the State Monitoring Committee that Gram Sabhas in Scheduled and non-Scheduled Areas will be held at revenue village level. In several areas, however, the gram sabhas have been held at the Gram Panchayat level and the FRC's then constituted separately for each revenue village - implying that the panchayat-level gram sabha will be the decision-making body. The government had also declared that gram sabhas at the hamlet level will be held only under exceptional circumstances (eg. remote areas, geographical difficulties, "Naxalite" affected areas etc.), and till date these have been held only in some areas in Nandurbar and Jalgaon Districts and in a few villages in Thane District.
Initially the state government had announced that the Gram Sevak will be the secretary of the FRC, but under pressure this decision was changed and the Tribal Welfare Department then announced that an educated person from the village is to be appointed as Secretary. However, even so, in some villages, the officials present at the Gram Sabha have insisted and appointed the Gram Sevak as Secretary of the FRC.
Both individual and community rights forms are being distributed, but the emphasis is on individual rights forms. The organisations have been demanding that separate gram sabhas for community rights should be held, but no decision on this has as yet been taken by the government. On August 15, CFR rights of two villages were recognised in Gadhcharoli district, making them the first two cases of recognised CFR rights in the country. 40 villages in the surrounding area are also ready to file their CFR claims.
Verification by Forest Rights Committees began in several areas at different times - mid November 2008 in Gadchiroli, the first week of December 2008 in parts of Thane, etc. In some areas, such as Jawahar Taluka in Thane District, false records of verificatoin have been made even though verification has not taken place. Even in areas where verification is taking place, it is frequently happening under pressure to meet deadlines and targets and hence with frequent violations of the regulations. Verification is being made subject to the decisions of the Forest Department in some areas. Organisations have been fighting these violations. They have also been demanding that those who hold dali and ek sali lands as well as those who were eligible under earlier circulars should receive priority.
Meanwhile, in January 2009, the State government began appointing "authorised employees" to conduct GPS surveys of claimed lands. In practice most of these "authorised employees" are Forest Department personnel. Organisations have protested this move and demanded that the government train Forest Rights Committees in using the technology. This demand has now been accepted and some FRC members have already been trained to use the GPS instruments.
Non-ST's in the Vidarbha area have been facing problems demonstrating three generations of residence. The organisations there are pushing for oral evidence to be accepted, but this demand has not yet been accepted.
In the three Tiger Reserves in Maharashtra there have been reported attempts at relocation of villages in violation of the FRA. Official sources indicate the decision to relocate 22, 1 and 5 villages in Melghat, Pench and Tadoba respectively. The village of Botezari was relocated out of Tadoba reserve in 2007, though such relocation was illegal under the Amendment to the Wild Life (Protection) Act (which had come into force the previous year). Part of the village of Kolsa was also relocated at the same time. No rights were recognised, there was no scientific investigation and no consultation took place. Facilities at the relocation site are still not complete as of June 2009, though as per law relocation is not allowed until facilities are complete. Harassment continued inside the reserve, leading to repeated protests in November 2008 and May 2009.
On August 3rd, 2009, rasta rokos and protests took place in several parts of Raigad, Thane and Nandurbar districts. Shortly afterwards the entire process was suspended as a result of the notification of elections. As of October 2009, the process remains stuck at this stage.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli
In meetings held in April, the administration agreed to implement the Act by taking the revenue village as the unit rather than the very large panchayats. However, as of September 2009 no further implementation had occurred, despite the Collector's written assurance after a protest demonstration. On August 4th, 2008, the Secretary for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had agreed to look into the matter, with no impact.
Implementation of the Act only began in Jharkhand in October 2008, due to the lack of elected panchayats in the State. The State government claimed that it was not able to implement the Act due to this, since the Act requires elected members in the Sub Divisional and District Level Committees, while the Rules require the panchayats to summon a gram sabha. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs was requested for a clarification on this and had, in July 2008, informed the Jharkhand government that the State government can, in consultation with the gram sabhas, appoint members to fill these positions.
In Latehar, West Singhbhum and East Singhbhum districts, gram sabhas were called at the end of November 2008 and Forest Rights Committees elected, though in some areas the Forest Department has tried to impose JFM Committee members as FRC members. As of October 2009, systematic distribution of claim forms had not yet taken place in most areas. Although District Collectors have received some funds for printing forms etc, even where printed the BDOs have not bothered to distribute them. There are reports of revenue field level officials demanding bribes for giving forms. The Forest Department has attempted to restrict recognition to pre-1980's claimants in some areas.
Though hundreds of settlements submitted resolutions seeking constitution of hamlet level gram sabhas, initially most gram sabhas have taken place at the revenue village level. In Latehar, the Collector has agreed to hold gram sabhas as per the provisions of the Panchayati Raj Act of Jharkhand. The process of recognizing hamlet level gram sabhas has begun in the district.
In early 2009, there were also intensifying efforts to remove people from their lands for plantation purposes. In Latehar district, in the second week of February, false cases were filed against people who resisted plantations and two people were arrested. Even in August 2009, cases were filed against people occupying forest land since ages and they were jailed. Many villagers have been evicted since 2005 in the name of undertaking plantations.
As of October 2009, the State government had not issued any clear orders, and actual implementation was dependent on the District Collectors. In the absence of clear procedural guidelines being issued across the state, and the limited personnel available with the welfare department, implementation is largely being led by the district collectors. There seems to be wide variation in the approach being followed by different collectors. In some districts, the Collectors have delegated the task of getting FRCs elected to poorly trained BDOs. In some areas the BDOs have nominated FRC members on their own without calling gram sabha meetings while in other cases, the Collector is insisting on seeing the signatures of 2/3rd members of the Gram Sabha on the voters' list before accepting the validity of the gram sabha meeting. Largely due to state government pressure to show some results, about 2000 individual titles have been issued in the whole state to date. In many cases the titles are for lesser area than that claimed but no reasons have been given for the same. The claims of other traditional forest dwellers are being ignored. There have reportedly been almost no claims for community forest rights, In one area, the Birhors claimed the right to collect NTFPs which has been granted over a 150 acre forest area.
The Forest Department is refusing to accept claims in most wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves on the grounds that rights in reserve forests were recognised during the colonial period. However, some individual land titles have been issued in Hazaribagh wildlife sanctuary. No effort has been made to convert forest villages (there are 28 forest villages in the state) into revenue villages although individual titles have been issued in one. Bamboo and Tendu leaf continue being managed as nationalized MFPs by the forest department.
On 19 February 2008, the State government constituted the State Level Monitoring Committee and directed the District Collectors to constitute the District and Sub-Divisional Level Committees. On 22 February 2008, a letter was issued directing the convening of gram sabhas. It appears that at the May 1st normal gram sabhas, the Act was raised at some villages in Erode and Dindigul Districts. On 21 February 2008, the Madras High Court issued a stay order against any issuing of pattas or felling of trees (under section 3(2)). On 30 April 2008, after an application for vacation of this order was moved by a tribal organisation, the High Court clarified that implementation of the Act should proceed, but the title for any rights should be granted only after obtaining orders of the Court. These court orders have been used as a convenient excuse for the government to non-implementation of the Act. This was cited by the Nilgiris District Collector to claim that no implementation is necessary (an untrue interpretation of the order). However, since then the process of implementation has commenced belatedly.
On 3 July 2008, new information was received to the effect that from July 1st the State government has begun constituting District Level Committees in most districts. By the first half of August, 2008, the process of creating FRC's had begun in most hill areas in the State. In some districts, however, only the District and Sub-Divisional Level Committees was set up, and in some cases even their members do not know they are on them. In Kanyakumari District, the Forest Rights Committees was being constituted directly by the Collector, but this was contested by the local movements. Conceding this, FRC was constituted by the Gram Sabha as the Forest Rights Committees have been constituted. 963 claims have been filed in Pechhiparai Panchayat and is to be considered by the Gram Sabha in November. The District Collector has initiated the process of getting the land surveyed in collaboration with the FRC even before the claims has reached the SDLC. In Thiruvanamali district, 5165 land claims have been filed. But the district authorities asked the Panchayat presidents to make sure that no claims are entertained from those claimants who have other lands in their name, have other source of income or a government job in violation of FRA.
In Dindigul district, meanwhile, despite the formation of FRC's at the panchayat level as early as May, in mid November 2008 the Collector started demanding that all forms should be submitted directly to him or to the concerned RDO (equivalent of an SDO), and that only forms in English would be accepted. This was protested in the area. On 20 October 2009, Adivasis from Kodaikanal hills protested at the Dindigul against evictions and eviction threats, false cases, prevention of collection of forest produce such as honey and firewood and demanded implementation of FRA.
FRC's formed at the hamlet level on the initiative of people have not been officially recognised. Such FRC's have been particularly prominent in the Nilgiris. The process of submission of claims and their determination has been completed in a number of villages in the first quarter of 2009 itself. the SDLC and DLC have remained unresponsive. However, the District Collector have initiated a parallel process calling forth NGOs, handing over the reswponsibility of formation of FRCs, yet another ones in some villages, except that it is exclusively a process with STs keeping away non-tribal ostensibly with the intention of creating a conflict between STs and non-STs. Similarly on the borders of the proposed Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, the Masinagudi panchayat has thrice called one day bandhs in protest at the illegal notification of a critical tiger habitat inside the reserve. At the end of November 2008, the Forest Department attempted to file false cases against 50 activists in the area in order to suppress the protests, but the police were forced to release those arrested and withdraw after a snap bandh called locally and mass demonstrations. On December 30, an all party committee called a mass demonstration against the illegal critical tiger habitat declaration at Gudalur; approximately 70,000 people participated. The press statement of the demonstration can be found here. The situation in the area remains tense as of October 2009, with repeated protests and attempts by the Forest Department to use other excuses – such as the Preservation of Private Forests Act and a proposed "Elephant Corridor" - to take over people's lands. In February 2009, however, the Madras High Court directed that no adivasis or other forest dwellers should be removed until the implementation of the Act was complete.
Violations of the Act also continue. In Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, on 6 May 2008, eviction notices were issued to all the Kani adivasis living in four villages inside the reserve, on the grounds that they had "failed to help the Forest Department." This is no ground for eviction under any law and is a violation of basic human rights. When the villagers replied pointing out that the notice is not only illegal but also a criminal offence under the Forest Rights Act, they received another letter on 19th June from the concerned forest officer - the Deputy Director of the Tiger Reserve - threatening them with unspecified further action if they do not disown their reply. Even though the villages in the Tiger Reserve are forest villages who have formed FRCs and are ready with their claims, the Tirunelveli district officials are delaying the process on the plea that a Town Panchayat to which these villages are a part of, does not have a 'Gram Sabha'.
Eviction notices were also issued in the proposed Anamalai Tiger Reserve in August 2008, and were then withdrawn following protests and action by the Collector. The district officials have been insisting that the people cannot claim their rights in wild life sanctuary and tiger reserves under FRA. The process is yet to take off.
Forest Rights Committees had been constituted mainly at the panchayat level in February and March of 2008. Despite Andhra's large tribal population and the large area under schedule V of the constitution, leave aside hamlet level gram sabhas, even revenue village gram sabhas have not been permitted. Consequently, residents of remote tribal hamlets of large panchayats have been unable to file their claims under the FRA. In several areas the ITDA undertook surveys with GPS systems to assist in mapping. One "social mobiliser" was appointed in every village under the existing World Bank sponsored Indira Kranthi Patakam scheme (formerly known as the Velugu scheme), and these mobilisers were instructed to help with claims. However, the government has focused entirely on individual claims. ITDAs are sending surveyors for surveying the lands for which only individual claims have been made. The verification forms for these have illegal additional pages that require sanction from beat officers and revenue officials. Many claims were illegally rejected by forest guards during the initial phase of verification by the FRCs. In Adilabad, many claims were initially rejected but the people have re-filed them. In addition, GPS surveys have been abused and people have found smaller areas of land being recorded than those that they claimed, leading to demands for resurveys in many areas. Forest Department interference has also increased, leading to recognition of much smaller areas than were claimed or are actually existing on the ground.
Initially no claim forms were being issued for community rights, and when they were subsequently issued, people were informed to simply tick those that they wished to claim - which clearly led to their rejection. Following mobilisation by movements and grassroots groups, and providing villagers training in mapping their community forest resources, claims for community forest resource rights have now been filed by several hundred villages. This has incidentally also led to rediscovery of many community lands that had been illegally seized by the Forest Department, and in some areas (as in the case of Orient Cement in a village in Adilabad) contributed to helping people resist handover of their common lands to private companies. Community claims were being sent directly to the SDLCs. Although District Collectors and ITDA officers had agreed to accept claims for community rights, no facilitation for these was or is being provided by the government. Out of an estimated 5000 tribal villages in the state, organisations have been able to mobilise 700 to 800 villages. In protected areas as well the process of claiming rights has taken place to a limited extent.
It appears that the AP government intends to compel those issued individual titles to undertake plantations on their lands instead of self cultivation for which the rights have been granted. The government has begun promoting coffee plantations on people's lands in Vishakhapatnam District, rubber in East Godavari District and biodiesel in several districts.
In the Gudem area of Vishakhapatnam district, the forest department was not permitting the filing of any claims on the grounds that no survey of forest land had been done under the AP Forest Act, 1967 and for which no final notifications have been issued to date. However, the villagers have rejected this premise saying that there is no link between notification of the land and people's right to file claims under the FRA. Similarly, claims were not being entertained for the land to be submerged by the Polavaram dam or allocated for other development purposes.
Due to the lack of organisation among the Chenchus in Srisailam Tiger Reserve, efforts are continuing to illegally relocate them. The wildlife wing now appears to have decided to permit the Chenchus living in the core of the tiger reserve to stay on as it feels it can use them for tiger conservation.
In August 2008, the AP High Court followed the lead of the Madras High Court and issued an interim order barring grant of final titles for rights. In May 2009, the High Court in turn vacated this order and granted permission to issue titles (see here for more information). The earlier interim order of the High Court had led to a general apathy among government officials (who widely interpreted the order as a stay order, when it was not one).
As per official data of August 2009, 1,79,643 individual titles have been issued for a total area of 4.86,780 acres. This is against a total of 3,27,715 individual claims being filed with gram sabhas for a total area of 9,47,788 acres. Thus the approved claims and approved area is roughly 50 % of what was claimed. No reason has been provided for the rejection of such a large number of claims or reducing the area claimed, thereby depriving the people the right to appeal. People are now seeking such information under RTI to challenge arbitrary rejections and reductions in area claimed. The average area of approved title is just over one hectare, a far cry from the permitted maximum of 4 ha and the fear expressed by conservationists that the FRA will result in the 'distribution of 4 ha to every tribal family resulting in the decimation of the country's forests'.
On the surface, Andhra has also issued an impressive 2276 'community certificates of titles' (presumably meaning titles for community rights) for a total area of 7,84,949 acres. Information obtained under RTI about the details of these community claims, however, has revealed an attempted 'coup' of community forest rights by the forest department. The majority of community forest rights which have been approved are claims filed by JFM committees (VSSs in AP) which have no right to file claims under the Act. If the forest department created committees continue, the gram sabhas empowered to protect, conserve and manage their CFRs for sustainable use will be illegally deprived of their statutory right under the Act while the FD will retain control over JFMCs as before. In contrast, many of the community claims filed by villagers have either been rejected or approved for a much smaller area than that claimed. The Adivasi Aikya Vedike organized a protest against this abuse of the FRA in Adilabad and the villagers are planning to file fresh claims for CFR rights. Herding and grazier communities have been struggling to file claims for seasonal grazing rights which continue being ignored.
Implementation of the Act appears to have begun near the end of March 2008, with a circular that directed constitution of Forest Rights Committees at the gram sansad level. This circular had a number of problematic sections. However, the process stopped soon after the end of March due to the announcement of panchayat elections. When implementation restarted in June 2008, the problems continued, including calling of the gram sabhas at the level of the "gram sansads" - ward sabhas - which, in forest areas, can be very large. In Jalpaiguri district, in November 2008, the government was insisting on Forest and Revenue officials being members of the Forest Rights Committees - in direct violation of the law - and accusing protesters in the area of encouraging "encroachment."
In the southern districts the process appears to be have taken place with almost no public awareness and with complete official control of the gram sabhas being called. A deadline of November 30th, 2008, had been fixed by the State government but protests took place at the end of November to get this extended, as in most areas gram sabhas never took place properly and hence could not have invited claims as per the Rules. Some pattas were issued prior to the Lok Sabha elections, but it appears these "pattas" have been identified by the Forest Department as no proper gram sabhas have taken place in almost all areas and no FRC verification has been undertaken either. In the large number of forest villages and other settlements in North Bengal, no effort has been made to convert them into revenue villages. Instead, the forest staff have attempted to grant pattas to people selected by them while denying the others even an opportunity to file their claims. This makes the process in direct violation of the Act.
Efforts to resist these illegalities have been met with accusations that the concerned organisations are "misleading" people and are Maoist affiliates. Community rights have been totally ignored, and in areas where people have themselves attempted to exercise their community forest management powers and rights, as in Jalpaiguri District, these have been sought to be repressed by the government. In October 2008, further, the West Bengal government issued a new JFM circular which attempted to reduce these community forest management powers to Joint Forest Management, while imposing the same earlier conditions on the types and quantities of minor forest produce that can be collected, bans on grazing, etc., all of which are now illegal as per the Act.
In Buxa Tiger Reserve efforts were made for several weeks in June and July 2008 to relocate people by the offer of the Rs. 10 lakh proposed compensation package. The process was subsequently halted after protests and intervention by political leaders.
In August 2009 a writ petition was filed against these illegalities in the Kolkata High Court.
A Working Group was set up to recommend the best methods to implement the Act. The working group had finished its work in May, 2008. Subsequently, it appears that the government had decided to proceed with holding gram sabhas at the ward sabha level (that is, a gram sabha for each constituency in the panchayat). These ward sabhas are quite large and include many non-forest dwellers and non-tribals. The decision to hold these ward sabhas was opposed by tribal movement organisations, the tribal wing of the CPM, the CPI etc. Nevertheless, on July 29th, 2008, the process began in Attapaddy District in some selected gram sabhas - only those actually near existing forests, as opposed to all those with forest land - and in other areas in Ernakulam, Kannur and other areas. In all areas, the ward sabhas could not be held due to the lack of an adequate quorum. As a result a decision was taken in mid August to have the gram sabhas at the hamlet level wherever ward sabhas could not be held due to the lack of a quorum. The local organisations are demanding that hamlet level gram sabhas should be made mandatory and not left to the discretion of the District Collector. These gram sabhas were to be called on August 18th but subsequently seem to have been called in several areas during September 2008.
The FRA process has however only been initiated in villages that are in fact near actual physical forests and where there is overwhelming evidence of total dependence on physical forests for livelihood. The process seems to be ignoring villages that are on the fringes or who have forest land but no actual forest.
The Kerala government guidelines have also put in place an elaborate electoral process (appointment of officers to conduct elections, call for nomination papers and their scrutiny, conduct of elections, counting, and issue of certificate to those winning elections) for elections to the FRCs. These have come in for criticism as being an excessive bureaucratisation of the democratic process, which is not necessary if the gram sabhas are held at the hamlet level.
Demands have now been coming up from a number of areas/organisations that declaration of Adivasi majority areas as V Schedule Areas is essential to truly benefit from the fruits of Forest Rights Act, since powers under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act are fundamental and complementary to FRA. This is particularly so for prevention of alienation of land as well as other rights.
There has been a lack of information dissemination and publicity, with almost no official action in this direction. However, in several areas, hamlets have on their own begun to organise Forest Rights Committees, declare and demarcate community forest resources and prepare for implementation of the Act. On 1 November 2008, a mass public rally was held primarily on the issue of community control over forests. In response, the Forest Department has launched an intense effort to organise JFM Committees in as many villages as possible in an effort to undermine and take control over efforts by communities to assert their rights over forest protection and management.
As of September 2009, reports indicated that implementation had hardly gone forward anywhere in the State, despite news reports in which the Forest Minister referred (incorrectly) to 'distribution' of land under the Act. However, the ST Minister has announced grand plans for development of Adivasis including provision of homestead under FRA which has been virtually reduced to a land allocation welfare scheme rather than rights settlement.
There was an initial burst of activity in February 2008, when Forest Rights Committees were constituted in several districts of southern Karnataka. In some areas Committees were constituted without even holding a gram sabha. Elected representatives and local organisations protested to demand the cancellation of these Committees. The process then came to a halt due to state elections. Since then, it appears that District Level Committees and Sub-Divisional Level Committees have been set up in some districts, but information is very poor.
In October 2008, fresh orders were issued by the CM's office to constitute Forest Rights Committees by November 4th, but it is not clear if this happened in all areas. The Forest Department has been attempting to push JFM Committees into the role of Forest Rights Committees.
In tiger reserves, the administration along with some environmental NGO's such as Wildlife First has been spreading false propaganda to the effect that people will now be relocated with a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs per family without clarifying that rights must be recognised first and that relocation can only take place with the informant consent of the gram sabhas and only if it has been scientifically proven that co-existance is not possible..
In the area in which the BRT Hills wildlife sanctuary falls, representatives of Soligas have been made members of both the SDLCs and DLC. The District Collector is willing to approve the Soligas' claim for ownership rights over NTFPs but the DFO has till now refused his consent citing a Supreme Court order of February 2000. Upto date information about further developments is not readily available.
In Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, in mid-May 2009, four adivasi homes were demolished in the hamlet of Nanachicovu hadi. At least seven families have reportedly already accepted cash compensation and moved out, though it is illegal for any relocation to take place prior to the recognition of rights (which has not even been initiated in the area) and it is also illegal to provide only cash compensation. Reportedly the authorities are not accepting claims from tribals under the Forest Rights Act. There is increasing pressure on people to accept the cash compensation and to move.
The implementation of the Act was technically begun in the two Scheduled Tribe districts around April or May 2008. Election of FRCs was made one of the agenda items of the Panchayat gram sabha meetings held soon after. Neither the officials conducting the meetings nor the villagers had any information about the Act. Filing of claims was apparently due to begin in December 2008. The Act is yet to be extended to other districts of the state. In H.P. all residents of the scheduled districts are considered to be STs.
However, the considerable population of nomadic pastoralists of Gaddis and Gujjars, who are scheduled as tribes in H.P., either lives outside these districts or visits their alpine pastures only seasonally. It is this section of the population which could benefit considerably through clear recognition of their rights both to their seasonal pastures and their migratory routes. However, the rules do not provide any clarity about the procedure to be followed for recognising the rights of such nomadic communities which pass through not only multiple gram sabhas but also multiple districts and sometimes 2 or 3 states. On November 27, 2008, a meeting was jointly organised by an organisation working with pastoralists and the state forest department, at which representatives of Gaddis and Gujjars were also present, to brainstorm on how to proceed with enabling these communities to claim their rights.
Himachal is quite unique among Indian states in having well recorded forest rights of local communities. The main problem is that practically all the recorded rights are individual rights with no recognition of community forest protection and management rights. Local activists are attempting to persuade the state government to primarily focus on recognising such community forest rights under the FRA.
No meaningful implementation of the Act appears to have begun as of June 2009. It was reported in the press that the Chief Minister had stated that there is no need for this Act in Uttarakhand, as all forest rights are already settled (which is untrue). However, in September 2008 the Nainital High Court had issued a contempt notice to the director of the Rajaji National Park for attempting to forcibly relocate the Van Gujjar communities in the park, in violation of the earlier orders of the High Court directing him to recognise their rights under the Forest Rights Act. The park director had responded that he had no authority to recognise rights under the Act. The state government was then made a party to the petition and in its order dated 26.9.08, the High Court instructed the government to constitute the required committees under the Rules and initiate the process of claims being filed within a period of 60 days.
In mid October 09 more than 100 families were evicted from the Rajaji National Park in direct violation of the court order. These families have managed to return to their lands with the support of local movements. In late 08, SDLCs and DLCs were constituted which got some faulty FRCs nominated. During a public dialogue with the PCCF and the Collector of Dehradun district organized in June 09 as part of an international conference, the govt officials accepted that correct procedures had not been followed in the constitution of FRCs and that these needed to be reconstituted. They also made a commitment to support proper implementation of the Act but there has been little progress since then.
In February 2008, Forest Rights Committees were formed by the concerned BDOs at the G.P level and Sarpanches were nominated/selected as the ex-officio presidents of the Committees; as such the process has largely been violated and gram sabhas were hardly held. The whole process has been carried out by the Revenue and Forest officials and the tribal department has no knowledge of it. In some areas the Forest Department has been continuing with cashew plantations on people's lands. The government has reportedly blocked implementation of the Act in mining areas.
It seems that the State Level Monitoring Committee, the District Level Committees and the Sub-Divisional Level Committees have not yet been constituted as of June 2009, though in any case the process for demarcating "critical wildlife habitats" appears to be underway.
Since mid 09, Gakuved, a federation of the Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Adivasis become active indemanding implementation of the FRA. The federation organized a people's tribunal on 30-31 May on land where forest officuals claimed they had no idea about the Act or their responsibilities under it. But a committee to for declaring Critical Wildlife Hasbitat has been constituted. Tribals in Goa were granted ST status only in 2003-04 although most forest land in the state is tribal land. In 1968, the government had promised to issue land titles to people living in wildlife sanctuaries but the FD claims to be still doing the survey of the land. District Level Committees have been formed in both South Goa and North Goa. FRCs have been constituted in some villages as Khopigao and Gaodongri in Canacona Taluka of South Goa. Claim forms have reached BDO's office. But the process of submission of claims was yet to begin in the State as on end October 2009. However, in mining areas as Rivona village in Sanguem Taluka where people have been protesting mining activities, no attempt to constitute FRCs have been initiated by the authorities.
The Forest Rights Act was extended to the State in October 2009 (under Article 371G of the Constitution, no Central law applying to land or its resources applies to Mizoram unless the same is extended to the State by the State Assembly).
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Joint Forest Management
Joint Forest Management is often touted as a "participatory" success and a revolutionary scheme that has decentralised India's forest management. In practice, however, most JFM Committees are in fact proxies of the Forest Department and are neither participatory nor democratic in their functioning. Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry is pushing JFM at the expense of actual community control. See the attached notes and press releases for more information.
Democratic Control Over Resources - Community Forest Protection
Across India, communities have been protecting their forests against mafias, land grabbers, estates, companies and the Forest Department. The most famous example, but hardly the only one, was the Chipko movement. Until now, community protection was illegal and, if it went against the Forest Department's wishes, a crime. Now, the tide is turning.
The Afforestation Scam
The government often proclaims that India's tree and forest cover is increasing. Today, it's taken to making claims that this is central to tackling climate change (also see REDD: A New Danger to Adivasis and Forest Dwellers). But much of this "increased forest cover" is afforestation plantations, including the "compensatory afforestation" that the law requires when forest land is diverted.
Illegal Forest Diversion
Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, the Central government's permission is required before forest land can be used for non-forest uses. In practice the government has treated this provision as if only the Centre's permission is required, and proceeded to hand over huge areas of forest and forest lands to projects and private companies without consulting or even informing those most affected - the local communities. In law, that has now changed with the Forest Rights Act. For more, see our page on Large Projects and Forest Land.
India Wildlife Safari
Wildlife Safari in India continues to be a fascination for the wildlife lovers from all over the nation and overseas and rightly so given the assorted riches of all-natural habitats and wildlife spread across the length and breadth of the place. A lot of the exclusive wildlife sanctuaries are a photographer's paradise although they also residence a excellent numerous of the endangered species whose existential danger looms large in other components of the globe. The Earth Safari offers you tailor-made tour packages intended to provide a memorable knowledge and sighting of the exotic creatures from near quarters. Most usually the wildlife excursions are blended with the chance to explore many of the other tourist hotspots.
If you would want to discover the wildlife in the northern portion of India, you would be taken on a sightseeing spree across Delhi, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Agra, Bandhavgarh National Park, Pench National Park etc and on the way savoring the shut encounters with the tiger, elephants and other wildlife in their all-natural habitats. When you would get started the tour in Delhi, you would have your plate complete the wonders of the Red fort, Jama Masjid, India Gate, Humayun Tomb, Qutub Minar and so on. The upcoming end is Ranthambore, a wildlife reserve sandwiched amongst the Aravalli and Vindya mountain ranges. The exotic wildlife to be explored in this wilderness includes the Sambhar, Cheetal, Chinkara, Nilgai and Langur. The powerful and agile leopards and tigers are also generally seen in their all-natural habitats. From there you would head off to Jaipur, the Pink Town. The Sawai Man Singh Museum, Jantar Mantar, Hawa Mahal etc are the significant attractions there. The next destination would be Agra, the land of the Taj Mahal. The subsequent dose of wildlife exploration ensues in the Bandhavgarh National Park wherever the sloth bear, wild boar, the different species of the cat and other hardly ever encountered wildlife beckon. Travelers are taken on an elephant safari across the depths of the jungles and forests following which you would be taken the Pench National Park in the backdrop of which Rudyard Kipling had conceived the jungle book. This wildlife reserve properties a selection of monkeys tiger, bison, wild canines and a lot more than hundreds of birds of distinct species.
Indian Wildlife Safari is just what you may possibly want to get closest to wildlife in India in their all-natural environment.
India is home to several well known large mammals including the Asian Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Lion, Leopard, Sloth Bear and Indian Rhinoceros, often engrained culturally and religiously often being associated with deities. Other well known large Indian mammals include ungulates such as the rare Wild Asian Water buffalo, common Domestic Asian Water buffalo, Nilgai, Gaur and several species of deer and antelope. Some members of the dog family such as the Indian Wolf, Bengal Fox, Golden Jackal and the the world's rarest monkey, the Golden Langur typifies the precarious survival of much of India's megafauna.
India has one of the world's largest ranges of species. From Northern Himalayan Mountains to far Southern Lakshwadeep's corals and from Kutch's Desert in Western India to Eastern India's rain forests, there are plenty of the rarest of rare species that are found only in India. Some of the species are on the brink of extinction and some of them are critically endangered.
Bird Watching In India
Watching birds from faraway places and also from the rarest if species has always been a pleasure among nature lovers. Birds of so many colors and variety come to the Indian wildlife during their migratory days. Whether it's watching birds in your own back yard or whether it's a trip to the bird habitats to watch some very rare species of birds, bird watching is your lifetime ticket to the amphitheater of nature.
India has an enormous number of bird species, both resident and migrant and many parks in the country have over 2000 species. First time travellers are often surprised how prized this element of a experience can be. Tourists coming here have ample opportunity to notice birds, as even if they don't remember their names, for sheer dynamics and diversity they are impressive - from singing cuckoos to dancing peacocks.
With so much to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start planning a trip! Our nature tours are specifically designed to address all issues associated with responsible tourism as well as your utmost security and enjoyment. We have identified the richest natural history destinations and carefully developed itineraries that maximize wildlife and cultural experiences for you. We have brought together selection of the finest natural history, cultural and adventure tours and trips available in Northern, Central and Southern India with a few special tours from other parts of India like the North East.
Here are some great Indian wildlife Safari itineraries which offers maximum wildlife exposure and best safari experience. You can also get an exclusive Indian Wildlife Tour especially customized for you by our experts by just filling up the form at the bottom of each page.
Tiger Reserves In India
Corbett National Park
In the Patlidun Valley at the base of the Himalayas in the state of Uttar Pradesh, on the banks of Ramganga river, Corbett was established in 1936, as the Hailey National Park. This is India's first national park and the first sanctuary to come under Project Tiger. It was renamed after the famous Jim Corbett, who spent many years in this area and was the author of the book 'The Man Eaters of Kumaon'. The park supports a variety of vegetation making it the ideal habitat for the Tiger and its prey.
Area : 520 sq. km.
Best time to visit : October to March
Prominent Wildlife : Tiger, leopard, elephant, sloth bear, jungle cat, fishing cat, dhole, yellow throated marten, Himalayan palm civet, Indian grey mongoose.
Climate : Summers from April to June are warm. During monsoon (July- August) the park remains closed. Winter months from October to March is the best time to visit the park with cool to very cold temperatures.
Clothing : During the summer one can use cotton garments, but woolen to heavy woolen clothing is recommended in winter.
How to get there : Road distance from Delhi is 290 km. Ramnagar is the nearest railway station, about 50 km from the Park. The nearest airport is Delhi.
Where to stay : Adjoining the forest reserve - Quality Inn, Tiger Tops, Forest Rest Houses, Tented Camps and Tourist Huts. The budget traveller can find comfortable accommodation in and around the reserve, most of which are equipped with modern facilities.
The biennial population estimations conducted in Corbett National Park indicate that the population of wild animals in the park has increased over the years. From 90 tigers and 39 panthers in 1995 the numbers have gone up to 91 and 40 respectively in 1998. The Elephant population has grown from 394 to 602 and Sambhar from 3778 to 3876 during the same period.
For updated information please contact: The Field Director, Project Tiger Corbett National Park P.O Ramnagar, District: Nainital, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Kanha National Park
'Tiger Land', Kanha is situated in a horse-shoe shaped valley in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh. Banjar and Halon are the two main rivers and the park's topography ranges from plateau about 300ft from mean sea level to low lying land where the clay like soil is known as Kanhar which probably gives the name. Tall Sal trees line the boundary and thick bamboo foliages form a deceptive curtain through which light can hardly penetrate. A morning jeep ride through the misty jungle is a memorable experience and one can see a number of species of wild life. Besides the Tiger, Kanha has the largest variety of fauna in the country that includes 22 species of mammals. Regular exposure to tourist has made the animals at Kanha bold and more confident. It is an excellent park for wildlife viewing and photography.
Area: 940 sq. km
Best time to visit: February to June
Prominent Wildlife : Tiger, Leopard, Barasingha, Gaur, Sambar, Nilgai, Sloth bear, Dhole, Barking deer, Blackbuck, Wild-boar, Langur, Red jungle fowl.
How to reach: The nearest town to Kanha is Mandla, 65 km by road. The nearest railway junction is Jabalpur about 160 km away while the nearest airport is in Nagpur about 266 km.
Where to stay: There are plenty of places to stay at all budget ranges. Forest Lodge, MP Tourism Log Huts, Tourist Bungalow, Kipling Camps, Forest Rest Houses.
For Additional and updated information contact: Field Director Project Tiger, Kanha P.O Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, India
Bandavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh in the Vindhya Hills, in Madhya Pradesh encompasses 32 hills covered with a mixed forest of sal, dhobin and saga and large stretches of grasslands with bamboo grooves. A large fort said to have been built by Lord Rama the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana dominates the landscape. Bandhavgarh is famous for its tigers but is equally good for bird watching.
Area : 448 sq. km.
Best time to visit : March to June
Prominent Wildlife : Tiger, Nilgai, Chausingha, Jackal, Wild-boar, Fox, Gaur, Sambhar, Chital, Rhesus monkey, Hyena.
Climate : The summer months from April to June are usually warm followed by the monsoons between July and August. The winters from October to March are cool to chilly.
Clothing : For summers, light cotton clothes would be comfortable. The winters require woolen clothes.
How to get there: The nearest town to Bandhavgarh is Umaria,35 km by road which also happens to be the nearest railway junction. The nearest airport from the Park is in Khajuraho situated approximately 210 km away.
Where to stay: Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp, White Tiger Lodge, Forest Rest Houses. Apart from these places there are economy hotels in and around the park.
For Additional Information: Field Director, Project tiger Bandhavgarh National Park PO : Umaria, Dist : Shadol, Madhya Pradesh 484661, India
Located in Rajasthan, the Sariska landscape is dominated by sharp cliffs of hills and narrow valleys of the Aravalli mountains. The forests are dry and deciduous. The ruins of Temple Garh-Rajor of the 10th and 11th centuries are scattered in the jungle. A 17th century castle on a sharp hilltop at Kankwari, provides a panoramic view of flying vultures and eagles.
Area : 800 sq.km.
Best time to visit : February to June
Prominent Wildlife : Tiger, Nilgai, Wild-boar, Fox, Gaur, Sambhar, Chital, Hyena, four horned Antelope, Jungle Cat
Climate : Summers last between the months of April and June followed by the monsoons from July to August. This entire period from April to August is warm and dry. With the arrival of the winters in October the climate changes and it become cool to chilly. These conditions last till March.
Clothing : Summers are most comfortable in light cotton but for the winters woolen clothing is required.
How to get there : By road Sariska is 200 kilometers from Delhi and 107 kilometers from Jaipur. Buses between Delhi and Jaipur go via Alwar and Sariska. Nearest railhead is Alwar, about 37 kilometers from the reserve. The nearest airport is located at Jaipur the capital of the state of Rajasthan
Where to stay: There is comfortable accommodation in and around Sariska. Sariska Palace Hotel, RTDC Tiger Den Tourist Bungalow, Siliserh Palace Hotel, Forest Rest Houses and other boarding facilities are available.
For Additional Information: Please contact Rajasthan Tourist Office Bikaner House, Near India Gate, New Delhi 110003, India Phone +91-33-383895
Ranthambore used to be the hunting grounds of the Maharajas. For the wildlife enthusiasts, Ranthambore today offers an intense diversity of flora and fauna. It is one of the best places in the country to observe Tigers in their full glory.
Area : 392 sq.km.
Best time to visit : October to June
Prominent Wildlife : Tiger, nilgai, boar, sambar, chital, hyena, gazelle, chinkara, Indian hare, mongoose, leopard, jungle cats, sloth bear, marsh crocodile, jacanas, painted stork, black stork, peafowl, crested serpent eagle and many other exotic birds.
Climate : The summers last from April to June followed by the monsoons from July to August. This period is quite warm and usually dry. The winters set in from October and the climatic conditions change turning the park into a pleasant paradise for tourist. Thus the best season is from October to March.
Clothing : Summers are most comfortable in light cotton garments, but for the winters heavy woolen clothing is required.
How to get there : The nearest town from Ranthambore, eleven kilometers away is Sawai Madhopur which is also the nearest railhead. The nearest airport is at Jaipur the capital city of Rajasthan, 145 kilometers from Ranthambore.
Where to stay : There are excellent hotels at Sawai Madhopur including Maharaja Lodge (Taj Group). In the park, forest rest houses, Jogi Mahal, Hotel Kamdhenu, Jhoomer Baori Forest Lodge are the good ones. The last two are managed by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation.
For further and updated information contact: Field Director Ranthambore National Park Sawai Madhopur Rajasthan, India.
Sundarban National Park, home of the Royal Bengal Tiger, covering an area of 2,585 sq. km is the largest mangrove forest in the world. It is the two great Indian rivers, Brahamaputra and the Ganges that form this alluvial archipelago of four islands in the Bay of Bengal. It is a world heritage site and is an unique example of the estuarine mangrove ecosystem. The forest is home to more than 400 tigers, all man-eaters. These animals have adapted themselves very well to the saline and aqueous environs and are excellent swimmers. Crocodiles are often seen along the muddy beaches of the intricately patterned creeks and canals.
The name of this place has been derived from the 'Sundari' tree. This tree along with the russet-leafed hental palms offer a perfect camouflage for the black and yellow tigers.
Area : 2,585 sq. km
Best time to visit : September to May
Prominent Wildlife : Royal Bengal Tiger, leopards, crocodiles, crabs, Ridley sea turtles, hundreds of species of marine wildlife, and many kinds of birds and snakes.
Climate : Being very close to the sea, the Sundarban National Park enjoys moderate climate throughout the year. The summers are hot and humid. During the monsoon between June and August, it rains almost throughout the season. The winters are comfortable and pleasant.
Clothing : For the summers light cotton garments are good enough, and for the winters moderate to heavy cotton garments would suffice.
How to get there : The park can be approached by road from the nearest town of Gosaba about 50 km away. Canning is the nearest railhead 48kms away from the park. The nearest airport is at Calcutta, 112 km away.
It is possible to travel this route on water and Motor launches are available from the tourist offices in Calcutta.
Where to stay: Accommodation is available at Sajnakhali. Sajnakhali sanctuary is regarded as a part of the Sundarban National Park and is a bird watcher's paradise. There are forest Rest-houses and forest lodges available here.
For Additional and updated information:
Field Director Sundarban Tiger Reserve P.O Canning, District : 24 Parganas (South), West Bengal,India
Or Tourist Bureau Govt. of West Bengal 3/2 B B D Bag (East) Calcutta 700 001 West Bengal,India
A Project Tiger Reserve with a core zone of 874.20 sq.km, Bandipur lies on a hilly plateau with an average elevation of 800 metres over the mean sea level. Nestling in the shadow of the Western Ghats, Bandipur is one of the finest habitats of the Asian Elephant also. After the park was brought under the Project Tiger Scheme, the number of tigers have increased at a steady pace. The easy availability of water in the area have resulted in thick evergreen vegetation in this park. In some zones of the park daylight is unable to penetrate through the thick foliages.
Area : 874.20 sq. km
Best time to visit : March to August
Prominent Wildlife : Elephant, tiger, gaur, sambar, chital, barking deer, wild dog, wild boar, jackal, sloth bear, panther, chousingha, malabar squirrel, green pigeon, jungle fowl, the great Indian Bustard, a variety of other birds and insects, etc.
Climate : The climate around this part of the country is usually pleasant throughout the year.
Clothing : For the summers light cotton garments are enough while for the winters light woolen garments are recommended.
How to get there : The park can be approached by road from the nearest town of Gundulpet, 20 km away. The nearest railhead 65 km away from the park is the beautiful city of Mysore. The nearest airport is at Bangalore, about 220 km from the park.
Where to stay : Accommodation is available at Forest Houses, Forest Lodges and Rest Houses. Cottages are available at Kakanhalla, Mulehole, Kalkere and Gopalaswamy (Betta). These places are located in a around the park.
For Additional Information: Field Director Bandipur Tiger Reserve Mysore, Karnataka-570004, India
Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary
This 800 sq. km sanctuary in the Idukki district of Kerala is near the border of Tamilnadu. A dam has been constructed on the Periyar river leading to the submersion of a vast forest area that was once the hunting ground of the Maharajas of Kerala. This has also formed a 55 sq. km lake from which juts out the stumps of the trees reminding the visitors of their existence.
The sanctuary is spread on the undulating hills of the western ghats surrounding this lake. Sighting of wildlife is done here from boats gliding slowly through the serene lake. Though it is a Tiger Reserve, tourists come here to view the elephants in the act of ablution and playfulness by the lake. In the lap of the mountains, the sanctuary's environ is like a canvas of many shades. The fresh air of the moist deciduous forest gives one a chance to experience the peace and serenity.
Area : 777 sq. km
Best time to visit : December to May
Prominent Wildlife : Elephant, Tiger, Sambar, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Nilgiri Tahr, Wild Dog, Porcupine, Lion- tailed Macaque, Malabar Squirrel, Flying Squirrel, Sloth Bear, Gaur, etc.
Climate : The climate during summer (from April to June) and during monsoon (from July to August) is warm. Winter ranges from October to March which is cool and pleasant.
Clothing : In the summers cotton dresses are very comfortable, and for the winters cottons and light woolens would be sufficient.
How to get there : The National Park is 4 km from the nearest town, Kumily. The nearest railhead is 114 km, at Kottayam. The nearest airport is Kochi, 190 km and Madurai, only 145 km from the Park.
Where to stay : Accommodation is available at Forest Rest House, Aranya Nivas, Lake Palace and Periyar House. These three places to stay are situated inside the sanctuary while there are plenty of accommodation available outside the Park in Kumily.
For Additional Information: Field Director Project Tiger, Kanjikuzhi, Kottayam, Kerala, India.
Sunderbans Tiger Reserve
Sunderbans, the world's largest delta and mangrove swamp, is formed by the merging of three rivers- the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna- and has a 2,585 sq km wildlife sanctuary that extends into Bangladesh. The Wildlife Sanctuary, which is the world's largest estuarine sanctuary, has some of India's most interesting wildlife, and is worth a visit. Spreading over a series of densely forested islands and saline water channels, Sunderbans is home to spotted deer, wild pigs, monkeys, herons, kingfishers, white bellied eagles and over 200 Royal Bengal tigers.
The tigers of Sunderbans are known to be mostly man eaters- mainly because of the lack of other suitable prey in the area- and the entire estuary has become, over the past decades, a place where you have to be on the alert all the time. Hunters, honey-collectors and fishermen from the neighbouring areas wander through the sanctuary throughout the year, and there are an average of 40 maulings a year. This is an improvement on past figures, however, as the forest department has introduced a number of measures- including masks and electric dummies to scare off maneaters. According to local folk culture, it is still believed that Bonbibi, the goddess of the forest, protects the villagers on their hazardous missions. A possé of armed policemen accompanies all visitors who venture into these 'beautiful forests'.
Sunderbans' other creatures include estuarine terrapins, Olive Ridley turtles, estuarine crocodiles, Ganges dolphins, water monitors and a wide variety of birds, fish and crustaceans. Also part of Sunderbans is the Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary. Besides a heronry, the Sajnekhali Visitors' Centre has a crocodile enclosure, a shark pond, a turtle hatchery and a Mangrove Interpretation Centre.
Best time to visit
Sunderbans is open to visitors from October to March. Winter is anyway the time when the area isn't as hot and humid as the rest of the year, so it's best to time your visit for between December and February.
Here the tigers are always watching you! Sunderbans is home to a number of Royal Bengal Tigers. The estimates have reached upto 270 tigers in the park.
Visitors can enter the park anytime between 7:00 am to 5:00 pm.
A boat trip through Sunderbans outside the sanctuary requires no prior permission. Permits are however necessary to visit the estuarine delta area, and can be obtained from the office of the Field Director, Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, Port Canning, 24 Parganas. These permits allow you to visit the Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary and the Project Tiger reserve areas within Sunderbans. Permits to visit other parts of Sunderbans can be obtained from the Divisional Forest Officer, 24 Parganas, 35 Gopalnagar Road, Kolkata. For foreigners, permits are available at the Forest Department in the Writer's Building, Kolkata. Note that the core area- the National Park- is off-limits for tourists; you'll only be able to visit the wildlife sanctuary.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
An Act to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded; to provide for a framework for recording the forest rights so vested and the nature of evidence required for such recognition and vesting in respect of forest land.
29 December 2006
Date assented to
29 December 2006
31 December 2007
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is a key piece of forest legislation passed in India on December 18, 2006. It has also been called the Forest Rights Act, the Tribal Rights Act, the Tribal Bill, and the Tribal Land Act. The law concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.
Supporters of the Act claim that it will redress the "historical injustice" committed against forest dwellers, while including provisions for making conservation more effective and more transparent. The demand for the law has seen massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people.
However, the law has also been the subject of considerable controversy in the English press in India. Opponents of the law claim it will lead to massive forest destruction and should be repealed (see below).
A little over one year after it was passed, the Act was notified into force on December 31, 2007. On January 1, 2008, this was followed by the notification of the Rules framed by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to supplement the procedural aspects of the Act.
BackgroundIndia's forests are home to millions of people, including many Scheduled Tribes, who live in or near the forest areas of the country. Forests provide sustenance in the form of minor forest produce, water, grazing grounds and habitat for shifting cultivation. Moreover, vast areas of land that may or may not be forests are classified as "forest" under India's forest laws, and those cultivating these lands are technically cultivating "forest land".
The reason for this latter phenomenon is India's forest laws. India's forests are governed by two main laws, the Indian Forest Act, 1927and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The former empowers the government to declare any area to be a reserved forest, protected forest or village forest. The latter allows any area to be constituted as a "protected area", namely a national park, wildlife sanctuary, tiger reserve or community conservation area. 
Under these laws, the rights of people living in or depending on the area to be declared as a forest or protected area are to be "settled" by a "forest settlement officer." This basically requires that officer to enquire into the claims of people to land, minor forest produce, etc., and, in the case of claims found to be valid, to allow them to continue or to extinguish them by paying compensation.
Studies have shown that in many areas this process either did not take place at all or took place in a highly faulty manner. Thus 82.9% of the forest blocks in undivided Madhya Pradesh had not been settled as of December 2003, while all the hilly tracts of Orissa were declared government forests without any survey. In Orissa, around 40% of the government forests are "deemed reserved forests" which have not been surveyed.
Those whose rights are not recorded during the settlement process are susceptible to eviction at any time. This "legal twilight zone" leads to harassment, evictions, extortion of money and sexual molestation of forest dwellers by forest officials, who wield absolute authority over forest dwellers' livelihoods and daily lives.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Forest Rights Act describes it as a law intended to correct the "historical injustice" done to forest dwellers by the failure to recognise their rights.
ProvisionsThe Act as passed in 2006 has the following basic points.
Types of rightsThe rights which are included in section 3(1) of the Act are:
- Right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers;
- Community rights such as nistar, by whatever name called, including those used in erstwhile Princely states, Zamindari or such intermediary regimes;
- Right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce( includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin) which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries;
- Other community rights of uses or entitlements such as fish and other products of water bodies, gazing (both settled or transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities;
- Rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agriculture communities;
- Rights in or over disputed lands under any nomenclature in any State where claims are disputed;
- Rights for conversion of Pattas or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any State Govt. on forest lands to titles;
- Rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, unsurveyed villages and other villages in forest, whether recorded, notified or not into revenue villages;
- Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use;
- Rights which are recognized under any State law or laws of any Autonomous Dist. Council or Autonomous Regional Council or which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State;
- Right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity;
- Any other traditional right customarily enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers, as the case may be, which are not mentioned in clauses-1 to 11, but excluding the traditional right of hunting or trapping extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal
- Title rights - i.e. ownership - to land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers as on December 13, 2005, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family as on that date, meaning that no new lands are granted
- Use rights - to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
- Relief and development rights - to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
- Forest management rights - to protect forests and wildlife
Eligibility criteriaEligibility to get rights under the Act is confined to those who "primarily reside in forests" and who depend on forests and forest land for a livelihood . Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area  or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.
Process of recognition of rightsSection 6(1) of the Act provides that the gram sabha, or village assembly, will initially pass a resolution recommending whose rights to which resources should be recognised (i.e. which lands belong to whom, how much land was under the cultivation of each person as on Dec 13, 2005, etc.). This resolution is then screened and approved at the level of the sub-division (or taluka) and subsequently at the district level. The screening committees consist of three government officials (Forest, Revenue and Tribal Welfare departments) and three elected members of the local body at that level. These committees also hear appeals .
Resettlement for wildlife conservationSection 4(2) of the Act lays out a procedure by which people can be resettled from areas if it is found to be necessary for wildlife conservation. The first step is to show that relocation is scientifically necessary and no other alternative is available; this has to be done through a process of public consultation. The second step is that the local community must consent to the resettlement. Finally, the resettlement must provide not only compensation but a secure livelihood.
Misunderstanding the Act as a land distribution schemeA great deal of the debate is fueled by misunderstandings of the purpose of the Act. The most common is that the purpose of the law is to distribute forest land to forest dwellers or tribals, often claimed to be at the rate of 4 hectares per family (see for instance this article as an example) The Act is intended to recognise lands that are already under cultivation as on December 13, 2005, not to grant title to any new lands .
OppositionThe Act has been met with much concern and opposition from environmentalists and wildlife conservationists. Some of this opposition has been motivated by those who see the law as a land distribution scheme that will lead to the handing over of forests to tribals and forest dwellers (see Vanashakti, a group opposed to the Act, as an example]). But the strongest opposition to the Act has come from wildlife conservationists who fear that the law will make it impossible to create "inviolate spaces", or areas free of human presence, for the purposes of wildlife conservation. Tiger conservation in particular has been an object of concern.
Supporters of the Act take the position that the Act is not a land distribution measure, and further that the Act is more transparent than existing law and so can help stop land grabbing. Regarding wildlife conservation, they have argued that the Act actually provides a clear and explicit procedure for resettling people where necessary for wildlife protection, but also provides safeguards to prevent this being done arbitrarily.
Indeed, while concerned at some of the provisions, some environmentalists have also argued that "Conservationists who have stated that the Forest Bill will be the death-knell of India's forests are indulging in unsubstantiated exaggeration".
Supporters of the Act and others also argue that the provisions in the Act for community conservation will in fact strengthen forest protection in the country. This is said to be because it will provide a legal right for communities themselves to protect the forest, as thousands of villages are already doing in the face of official opposition.
TV advertisementsIn October 2003, Vanashakti, a group based in Mumbai, ran TV advertisements against the Act. This is the first time any Indian legislation has been attacked through a TV campaign.
Six advertisements were run by the organisation across major Indian news and TV channels, ads which continue to be available on their website. The group criticised the Forest Rights Act as having the potential to cause huge floods, droughts, and to increase global warming . They also decried it as an effort to keep "tribals in the forest" instead of assisting their "development."
In response to questions from a newspaper, Vanashakti claimed to have been formed over "a dinner table conversation" as a result of deep concern about the Forest Rights Act and the lack of media attention to it.
The TV ad campaign was met with angry responses from forest rights organisations. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of tribal and forest dwellers' organisations from several States of India, wrote an Open Letter to Vanashakti to Vanashakti, criticising them for "attacking the Forest Rights Act through distortions and untruths that do nothing to reinforce forest protection, and a great deal to undermine it." The Campaign also put up a website entitled "Vanashakti's Distortions and Untruths". An exchange of correspondence followed, which can be found both at the Vanashakti website and at the website on the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act" put up by the Campaign .
Criticism by forest rights supportersWhile supporting the principles of the law, forest rights supporters are not entirely satisfied with the law as finally passed. The recommendations of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the law were partly rejected, and supporters of forest rights have claimed that some of the rejected clauses were important. In particular, the final form of the law is said to make it easier to exclude some categories of both tribal and non-tribal forest dwellers, to have undermined the democratic nature of the processes in the Act and to have placed additional hindrances and bureaucratic restrictions on people's rights . The Campaign for Survival and Dignity described the final form of the law as "both a victory and a betrayal" in their official statement on the occasion .
NotificationThe one year delay in the notification of the Act and the Rules was the subject of considerable Parliamentary and political uproar in the winter session of the Indian Parliament in 2007. There was also mass protests across India demanding that the Act be notified in October 2007, and in November 2007 a week long sit down protest took place in Delhi with the same demand.
On December 31, the Act was notified into force, and on January 1 the Rules for the Act - which provide the procedures for implementing its provisions - were also notified. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity welcomed the notification but sharply criticised a number of provisions in the Rules, claiming that they undermined democracy and the spirit of the Act.
ImplementationThere have been numerous complaints regarding the manner in which the Act has been implemented after its notification. For instance, in September 2010, the Council for Social Development, a New Delhi based think tank, released a "Summary Report on Implementation of the Forest Rights Act" which stated 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... 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 Ministry of Tribal Affairs releases monthly reports on the status of implementation of the Act. These can be obtained from theMinistry's website.
- ^ Press releases on the Forest Rights Act by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity
- ^ Ministry of Tribal Affairs
- ^ Sarin, Madhu (May 5, 2005). "Scheduled Tribes Bill: A Comment" (PDF). Economic and Political Weekly 40 (21). Retrieved 2007-12-26.
- ^ Legislations on Environment, Forests and Wildlife, from Ministry of Environment and Forests
- ^ Prabhu, Pradip (August 2005). "The Right to Live With Dignity". Seminar (552).
- ^ "Bad in Law", Madhu Sarin, World Bank website
- ^ "Dispossessed and displaced: A brief paper on tribal issues in Orissa", Kundan Kumar, Vasundhara
- ^ Gopalakrishnan, Shankar (June-July,2005). "Missing the Woods for the Trees". Combat Law 4 (4).
- ^ The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006
- ^ Section 3(1) of the Act
- ^ Section 3(1) of the Act
- ^ Section 3(1) of the Act
- ^ Section 3(2) of the Act
- ^ Sections 3(1) and 5 of the Act
- ^ Sections 2(c) and 2(o) of the Act
- ^ Sections 2(c) and 4(1) of the Act
- ^ Section 2(o) of the Act
- ^ Sections 6(2)-6(6) of the Act
- ^ Section 4(2) of the Act
- ^ "Forest Rights: Why the New Law Needs to be Implemented", Shankar Gopalakrishnan, IANS
- ^ Thapar, Valmik. "Conflict will go up by 10000 per cent", Daily News and Analysis, Dec 23, 2007
- ^ "The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act"
- ^ Truths and Falsehoods About the Forest Rights Act
- ^ Section 4(2) of the Act
- ^ Kothari, Ashish (December 30, 2006). "For Lasting Rights".Frontline 23 (26).
- ^ Kothari, Ashish (December 30, 2006). "For Lasting Rights".Frontline 23 (26).
- ^ "Understanding the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act"
- ^ Sethi, Nitin. "Activists Come Out With Ads to Slam Forest Act", Times of India, October 23, 2007.
- ^ Vanashakti.com
- ^ Sethi, Nitin. "Activists Come Out With Ads to Slam Forest Act", Times of India, October 23, 2007.
- ^ Prasad, Archana (December 30, 2006). "Survival at Stake".Frontline 23 (26).
- ^ Campaign press release (see bottom of the linked page)
- ^ The Hindu, "Notify Rules of Forest Act, says Brinda Karat", November 28, 2007
- ^ Press releases on the Forest Rights Act by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity
- ^ Sethi, Nitin and Mukul, Askhaya. "Forest Act Notified, Tribals Unhappy." Times of India, January 2, 2008
- ^ http://forestrightsact.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=31
- ^ Summary Report on Implementation of the Forest Rights Act, Council for Social Development, as posted on Campaign for Survival and Dignity website