Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 11:03 IST
By Subir Ghosh & Maitreyi Joshi | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA
State governments across the country have been both callous and tardy in implementing the Forest Rights Act. Claims are being rejected on flimsy grounds, with the rejection rate in as many as 11 states being over 50%. Karnataka stands fourth in the rejection rate with 95.66%, according to a compilation released on Monday by the Delhi-based Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN).
As of January 31 this year, 31,68,478 claims have been received and 27,24,162 (85.98%) disposed of. In terms of rejection, Uttarakhand is on the top with 100% followed by Himachal Pradesh (99.62%), Bihar (98.12%), Karnataka (95.66%) and Uttar Pradesh (80.48%), The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is popularly referred to as the Forest Rights Act.
There are numerous reasons for this.
Paritosh Chakma, director of AITPN, explained, “Forest Rights Committees have not been constituted at the gram sabha level in several states while the forest officials have been obstructing the process of verification and decision making at various levels. The claimants are denied proper hearing of their cases and opportunity to file appeal against the rejections.”
The nodal ministry i.e. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA)has washed its hands off by maintaining that its role is limited to “facilitating and monitoring the implementation”. On the other hand, the nodal departments at the state level do not understand the provisions of the FRA and have been reduced to performing a ‘post office’ job of collecting statistical information and forwarding it to the higher levels.
The reason for Karnataka being high on the list was explained by Srikanth, the state convener of the Tribal Joint Action. He said, “Officials in the state government have not had a proper orientation about FRA. They do not even understand what the law implies and they have just been rejecting all the applications, stating reasons like ‘they do not live in forests’ and ‘they are not doing agriculture on the land’. They have missed out on the what the Act exactly means. It is because of the lethargy and negligence of all these people in power – forest and revenue officers – that several people are suffering.”
The problem has been complicated by the fact that the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007 (better known as the Forest Rights Rules, 2007) notified on January 1, 2008 actually overrules the Forest Rights Act to deny rights to the beneficiaries.
VS Roy David, national convenor of the National Adivasi Alliance, said “The central government had allotted lots of funds to organise training programmes to create awareness about the Act among forest and district officials, but very few training programmes have been held (which were poorly attended). Most higher officials who are supposed to implement the law are not even clear about what the law means.”
The AITPN report ‘The State of the Forest Rights Act: Undoing of historical injustice withered’ categorically says that there has been little willingness to implement the FRA in letter and spirit. The MoTA especially had been shirking its responsibilities. In 2010, the MoTA had claimed that “Though the Act was passed by the central government, the primary responsibility of implementing this Act lies with the state governments” and that its role is limited to only “facilitating and monitoring the implementation” of the Forest Rights Act.
Roy David said, “There is no political will to implement the law. Forest officials look at forests as commercial sites from which they extract resources. If the law is implemented, the people in power worry that they will not be able to enjoy the same powers anymore. Moreover, there is a lot of political interference; many areas are being declared as ‘tiger sensitive’, ‘heritage sites’ and ‘elephant corridors’ even before the Forest Rights Act is implemented. This clearly is the violation of law.”
There are other issues too. Contended Chakma, “The community forest rights (CFRs) are not being recognised and in many states even the forms are not supplied. The claims under the FRA are not being recognised in the protected areas such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The ‘Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ are being denied rights under the FRA.”
The president of the Karnataka Adivasi Forum, JP Raju, said, “The forest and district officials are supposed to conduct community surveys to understand the status of the forest dwellers, but they are not doing that. Most applications are being rejected stating that there are not enough evidence(s) and documents supporting the application.”
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