forest rights act stuck in Northeast India

Panel: Forest act stuck


Guwahati, Jan. 5: A joint committee of the ministry of environment and forests and the ministry of tribal affairs has observed that the implementation of Forest Rights Act has hardly progressed in the Northeast. The act is one of the most important legislations drafted by the Centre to give rights to forest dwellers.

“In most of the northeastern states, the governments felt that the act was not relevant to their situation or were not clear on how it applied in the Sixth Schedule areas. Most of them are re-examining their position,” the committee said in its final report, submitted rcently.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, (or the Forests Rights Act) was enacted in 2007 through the ministry of tribal affairs to correct the “injustice done to forest-dwelling communities”.

The ministries of environment and forests and tribal affairs constituted a joint committee in April last year to review its implementation.

In Manipur, while the government has been unable to state why the act was not implemented, the ministry of tribal affairs said, “Tribal communities and tribal chiefs are already holding ownership of forest land as their ancestral land in non-reserved forest areas. Therefore, implementation of the act is perceived minimal in Manipur.”

Nagaland said, “Land-holding system and the village system of the Naga people is peculiar in that the people are the landowners. There are no tribes or groups of people or forest dwellers in Nagaland.” Hence, the Forest Rights Act per se “may not be applicable”. But the government has constituted a committee under Article 371(A) of the Constitution to examine this.

Meghalaya’s version is “substantial portion of forestland is owned by clans, community or individuals and implementation of the act has, therefore, limited scope.”

The act was notified on March 3, 2010 and so far only the higher-level institutions have been set up.

The act has also not been implemented in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam till now, as the state has asked for clarification from the ministry of tribal affairs on the legal aspects of the constitution of committees in this regard. In Assam, only 27 per cent of the title deeds have been distributed. In Tripura 67 per cent of the title deeds have been distributed.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the act does not have much relevance. The state said it “is wholly domiciled by ethnic tribal groups whose land and forests are specifically identified with natural boundaries. Barring few pockets of land under wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests, most of the land in the state is community land. Territorial boundaries of land and forest belonging to communities or tribes are also identified in the same line, leaving no scope for any dispute over the possession of land and forests.”

The committee in its report said the ministry of tribal affairs has reportedly been in touch with some states to clarify doubts, but it is not clear what specific position it has taken or advise it has given.

“A reading of the Act’s provisions, along with the individual powers that most north-eastern states (or parts of these states where Sixth Schedule applies), suggests that the fear of undermining existing rights is unfounded if the Forest Rights Act is implemented in its true spirit and letter, and that rather, the Act could further strengthen customary or traditional rights,” it added.


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