Of the people, for the people

Har­ness de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial of the For­est Rights Act

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY - KU­MAR SAMB­HAV SHRI­VAS­TAVA

WHEN THE FOR­EST Rights Act (fra) was en­acted in 2006 it was sup­posed to re­form the for­est regime that con­tin­ued since the colo­nial era and de­nied trib­als and other for­est-dwelling com­mu­ni­ties the rights over their an­ces­tral land and for­est re­sources. En­sur­ing liveli­hood and food se­cu­rity of the poor­est of the poor is at the core of this leg­is­la­tion. Seven years on, the Act is yet to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions.

People’s an­guish be­came clear dur­ing this gen­eral elec­tion when the rul­ing Congress party at the Cen­tre faced rout in most tribal con­stituen­cies that had been its tra­di­tional strongholds. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts lay the blame for the de­ba­cle of the Congress-led United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance govern­ment on its in­abil­ity to tap fra’ s de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial. The new govern­ment must im­ple­ment fra in let­ter and spirit and in­clude it in its key de­vel­op­ment agenda if it wants to con­tinue at­tract­ing tribal votes.

1. As per fra, for­est vil­lages must be con­verted into rev­enue vil­lages. With­out this, the vil­lage can­not ben­e­fit from de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes of the govern­ment. The change in sta­tus also keeps vil­lages out of the ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol of for­est de­part­ments.But no state has speeded up this le­gal re­quire­ment.The Union tribal af­fairs min­istry must pur­sue the mat­ter as a prior- ity so that the law’s de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial is re­alised.

2. fra is an at­tempt to hu­man­ise for­est man­age­ment. Ac­cord­ing to its rules, vil­lage com­mu­ni­ties must have rights over their forests.But in a bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of the rules, for­est de­part­ments tac­ti­cally re­sist grant­ing such rights. Small won­der that com­mu­nity for­est ti­tles ac­count for about two per cent of the to­tal fra ti­tles. The govern­ment should im­ple­ment the next phase of fra fo­cus­ing on com­mu­nity for­est rights in a time­bound man­ner.

3. fra, for the first time, de­fines mi­nor for­est pro­duce (mfp) and places valu­able pro­duces like bam­boo and tendu un­der its am­bit. It also grants for­est dwelling com­mu­ni­ties the right over mfps to en­sure their liveli­hood and in­crease their in­come. Though there has been a sharp in­crease in de­mand for the right, the for­est depart­ment is re­luc­tant to cede author­ity over for­est pro­duce. The new govern­ment should bring in more clar­ity on the roles of for­est depart­ment and in­tro­duce min­i­mum sup­port price for all mi­nor for­est pro­duce.

4. fra aims at rein­vent­ing the colo­nial for­est regime.But it can­not be im­ple­mented prop­erly un­til the for­est depart­ment un­der­goes sim­i­lar re­forms.The new govern­ment should im­me­di­ately re­form for­est gov­er­nance on lines of the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­forms Com­mis­sion.

En­sur­ing liveli­hood and food se­cu­rity of the poor­est of the poor is at the core of the Act

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