Forest Rights Act 2006: Sanity must prevail

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Dr. Junaid Jazib

Purposing to address a serious and long pending human problem, it provides a framework to empower ‘the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded’. The Forest Rights Act(2006) recognises (i) tenurial rights and security on ‘forest’ lands; (ii) livelihood rights, such as agriculture, pastoralism, non-timber forest produce, and so on, including rights to collect, trade and process the latter; (iii) traditional, customary and developmental rights and(iv) governance rights to protect, conserve, regulate and manage community forest resources. Implementation of the Forest Rights Act in Jammu & Kashmir would affect thousands of families reeling under wretched and uncertain circumstances due to not having any legal rights over their ancestral lands. Having gained the legal validity of their homes and habitations, lakhs of Gujjar, Bakarwals and others will be entitled to get basic amenities of life including healthcare, education, connectivity, food security and livelihood. The Act is a sincere attempt to protect and provide basic human rights to an extremely marginalised community. It is in accordance to host of international conventions and declarations which India proudly ratifies.
Besides addressing a grave humanitarian issue, the Act aims to attain the conservation objectives in a more effective and practical manner by involving indigenous groups. It stresses that ‘the recognised rights of the traditional forest dwellers include the responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological balance and thereby strengthening the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring their own livelihood and food security’. The traditional forestry knowledge, skills and experience accumulated by the forest dwelling communities over centuries shall certainly supplement the scientific management of forest resources.
This Act is, in fact, a vital tool for delivering good governance by ensuring social justice, equality, basic human rights, grass root level democracy and transparency. It is not something that enables land distribution or loss of forest areas as propagandised by certain quarters. The Act doesn’t provide for giving an inch of forest land to anyone. It simply provides a framework to give legal recognition to lands that people have already been farming as on 2005 and that too up to a ceiling of 4 hectare only. The claims of forest dwellers over their lands are required to be examined and verified by a 3-tier body of committees ensuring complete transparency, democracy and genuineness. In most of the cases such lands are recorded long ago as ‘forest’ in the revenue records without ascertaining their actual position. The Act can’t be a preclusion in conservation efforts in areas such as national parks or wildlife sanctuaries, where presence of humans interferes with the conservation. It, however, provides for proper relief and rehabilitation of the population being displaced.
The Himalayan eco-region harbours huge geographic, cultural and biological diversities. Its spectacular peaks, plateaus, plains and valleys, supporting a deep and diverse world of plants and animals, are also inhabited by various groups of people rooted in altogether different socio-cultural milieus. Forests and pastures constitute the most vital part of the Himalayan ecosystems and so does the indigenous and traditional human groups. They can’t be left to the mercy of God in the world’s oldest civilisation and deserve to be protected and provided with basic facilities of life. Implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006 in Jammu and Kashmir would offer a strong basis for protecting cultural as well as biological diversity of the region. It would promote quality, social justice, transparency and
prosperity.
(Concluded)

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