Of the people, for the people
Harness development potential of the Forest Rights Act
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