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Forest Rights Act UPSC NOTE

 Forest Rights Act (FRA) in India and its implementation challenges 

  • On December 18, 2006, the Rajya Sabha endorsed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, enacted by the Lok Sabha.

  • This Act, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act, or FRA.

  • This Act marks a watershed in India’s socio-environmental legislation, as it attempts to put an end to the long-drawn conflict over supposed ‘forest encroachments’.

  • Simultaneously, it seeks to create a much more democratic, bottom-up forest governance.

  • The implementation of the FRA has been plagued by political opportunism, forester resistance and bureaucratic apathy, and the discourse around it by deliberate canards and misconceptions.

  • Hence, 17 years after it was enacted, the FRA has barely begun to deliver on its promise of freeing forest-dwellers from historic injustices and democratising forest governance.

Historic injustices

  • Prior to colonialism, local communities enjoyed customary rights over forests in their vicinity or even a large region. 

  • Even when kings or chieftains claimed hunting rights in certain forests.

  • The colonial takeover of India’s forests, however, resulted in a massive disruption of these traditions. 

  • Based on the false idea of ‘eminent domain’ Indian Forest Act was passed and the takeover of India’s forests began

  • The injustices imposed by this colonial forest policy took multiple forms

  • First, now that forests were seen as primarily a timber resource, shifting cultivation was banned.

  • Second, the so-called survey and settlement of agricultural lands was incomplete.

  • Third, simultaneously, to ensure labour for forestry operations, ‘forest villages’ were created, wherein forest land was leased for agriculture to households in return for compulsory labour. 

  • Fourth, since forests were now state property, all access to forest produce was limited, temporary and chargeable, and always at the mercy of the forest bureaucracy that was armed with police powers. 

  • Any concessions to local livelihood needs were termed ‘privileges’ that could be modified or withdrawn any time.

  •  Fifth, even where access was permitted, the local community had no right to manage the forest, as the state logged valuable forests and made heavily used forest de facto open-access.

  • In the hurry to assimilate princely States and zamindari estates into the Union, their forest areas were declared state property without proper inquiry into who was residing in them.

  • Legitimate residents and cultivators became ‘encroachers’ overnight

  • Forest lands were leased out under the ‘Grow More Food’ campaign and other initiatives to meet the needs of a growing population, but were never ‘regularised’. 

  • Communities displaced by dams were not given alternative lands, and ended up ‘encroaching’ forest land elsewhere. 

  • Forest exploitation continued as in colonial times, but in the name of national interest.

  • Lakhs of communities were forcibly resettled when creating sanctuaries and national parks.

  • The FRA is remarkable because it first of all acknowledges these historical (colonial) injustices and their continuation post-Independence. 

  • Redress then takes three broad forms. 

  • The issue of so-called ‘encroachments’ is addressed through recognising individual forest rights (IFRs) to continue habitation and cultivation or other activities that existed before December 2005. 

  • Forest villages are to be converted into revenue villages after full rights recognition. 

  • The issue of access and control is addressed by recognising the rights of village communities to access and use forests and to own and sell minor forest produce, and, most importantly, to manage forests within their customary boundaries.

  • Finally, the Act lays down a democratic procedure for identifying whether and where wildlife conservation may require curtailing or extinguishing community rights

  • Simultaneously, having community rights over a forest translates ipso facto into the community having a say in, if not veto over, any diversion of that forest and a right to compensation if diverted. 

  • This right was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the Niyamgiri case.

  • The Forest Conservation Rules 2022 and FCA Amendment 2023 seek to bypass this right, States can still put in place such consent mechanisms.


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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Forest Rights Act UPSC NOTE
Forest Rights Act UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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