[Editorial Analysis] Looking beyond the Forest Rights Act

Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: Forest Rights Act
Mains level: Tribals issues

Context:

• Evaluation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) after its existence for 15 years.

• Despite the Forest Ministry being the implementing agency, the role of the Forest Department in granting titles is crucial because the lands claimed are under its jurisdiction.

About Forest Rights Act (FRA):

• The Act provides for democratic tenets in the implementation process.

• Gram Sabha: FRA requires the constitution of a Forest Rights Committee comprising members from within the village by conducting a Gram Sabha with two-thirds of the members present at the meeting.

1. The contribution of women to the forest economy is well known.

2. The FRA provides for equal rights in titles issued under the Act for women. They have the equitable role at every stage of decision-making.

• Evidence of ownership: Satellite image, as an evidence of ownership of titles is allowed. Whereas there can be other types of evidences as well.

Performance of the Act:

Successes:

• High award rate: As on April 30, 2020, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had received 42,50,602 claims (individual and community), of which titles were distributed to 46% of the applicants.

• Successful completion of the process: The implementation process of ownership rights is more or less over.

• The recognition given to their lands under the FRA gave the tribal people a psychological boost.

Criticism:

• The supporters of tribal rights allege that the Department is overlooking the genuine claims of the tribal people.

• Regarding Gram Sabha: The process was not followed in many places. These committees were mostly constituted by the Panchayat Secretaries upon the directives received from District Magistrates at short notice. The nominations for members for the taluk-level and district-level committees were also not transparent.

• Regarding women: On the ground, the women were hardly visible in the Panchayats and ownership of titles.

• Difficulty in proving claims: It was disappointing that in the initial stages of implementation, there was insistence on satellite images as evidence while other admissible proofs were ignored, as happened in Gujarat.

• Mass rejection of claims: This resulted in mass rejections of claims by the authorities. It is a different matter that a writ petition filed by the civil society groups in 2011 forced the authorities to look into the matter afresh in the State.

• Inclusion and exclusion errors. For example, in some villages around Bastar, Chhattisgarh, the plots claimed and the documents confirming the award did not match.

• Welfare and developmental schemes of the Rural Department were not extended everywhere to the tribal people who received documents of land possession under the FRA despite the directives issued by the Ministry to treat them on a par with others.

• Poor awareness levels among the tribal people proved to be a handicap, especially in the scheduled areas which are remotely located. To effectively present claims, a fair understanding of the Act and its implementation process is necessary.

• Involvement of NGOs was missing in some interior areas in States like Chhattisgarh where insurgency was affecting the lives of the people. Evidence suggests that implementation was better in areas which were fairly close to urban settings or where accessibility was easy. In these places, most Central and State government schemes and programmes such as Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, MGNRES, NFSA, National Health Mission; PMAY; and PMGSY were implemented, empowering the people to assert their positions.

Further challenges:

• Declining produce, livelihoods: Many tribal areas are witnessing a decline in the quality of forest produce in their vicinity, thus forcing them to look for other sources of livelihood.

• Reducing employment opportunities: In Chhattisgarh, in many villages, earnings from activities such as collection of tendu leaves for rolling local cigars were affected when there was an influx of labourers from Bihar who were willing to work for low wages.

• Poor market and exploitation by local traders/middlemen were no less demoralising.

• Possessed forest lands (including the lands recognised under the FRA) that are small, of poor quality (particularly lands located on hill slopes) and are not very fertile.

• High degree of emigration: To enhance their income, they migrate to work as construction or road-laying labourers.

• Poor educational level: given the quality of education received by the youth in the remote districts, the possibility of acquiring meaningful jobs remains thin.

• Dependence on Subsistence farming: A majority of the tribal communities in India are poor and landless. They practise small-scale farming, pastoralism, and nomadic herding.

• The lack of irrigation facilities forces them to depend only on rainfall.

• On the Human Development Index, the tribal-populated States always rank lower than the national average.

Way forward:

• Horticulture promotion: NGO representatives working in the tribal areas believe that the livelihoods of the locals would improve if horticulture practices are promoted in addition to bamboo and aloe vera plantations with an assured market.

• A popular recommendation is medical and ecotourism along the lines of the Kerala model.

• Providing skill-based education with assured jobs on a large scale in proportion to the demand would do wonders in these areas.

• Schemes and programmes already drafted for the tribal people must be implemented in letter and spirit across the country. With protective laws like the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, in place, it is only a matter of will.

• Induct people who are sensitive to the cause of tribal people in the decision-making process at every stage.

Conclusion:

• The FRA was never going to be a panacea to address all the issues of the tribal people, but it is important. To improve the condition of the tribal people, especially those living in remote areas, there needs to be a push on every possible aspect of their socioeconomic life.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) on the Personal Data Protection Bill, consider the following statements:

1. The committee has recommended a fine of up to Rs 15 crore or 4% of the total global turnover of the firm for data breaches, and a jail term of up to 3 years if de-identified data is re-identified.

2. Social media platforms that do not act as intermediaries should be treated as publishers, and therefore be held liable for the content they host.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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