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RECOGNISING RIGHTS OVER FORESTS
Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, J&K
1/15/2021 11:46:28 PM
Dr. Parveen Kumar

Forests account for seventy five percent of gross primary production of earth biosphere and contain about 80 per cent of the earth’s plant bio mass. According to a 2019 report of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the Total Forest Cover (TFC) of India is 712, 249 square kilometers which constitutes 21.67 per cent of India’s total geographical area. These constitute an important asset of our planet Earth. Living organisims depend upon forests for survival, for the food and medicines they provide, for the air to breathe, for the wood put to use for different purposes, for the habitat for different organisims, for the biodiversity they protect and conserve the role they play in preventing soil erosion and mitigating climate change. Forests help in maintaining the temperature and oxygen level of the atmosphere. Plants release oxygen during photosynthesis and consume carbon dioxide. Forests being a huge reserve of plants and trees play a significant role in balancing oxygen level in the atmosphere. A Forest represents a precious resource provided by nature. They are home to 80 percent of the global terrestrial bio diversity. There are a variety of plants available in most forests viz herbs, shrubs and trees depending upon the climate of the region. There are many forests spread over large areas across the globe. Forest can be classified as: tropical, evergreen, partly evergreen, deciduous and dry forests based on the climatic conditions and types of trees present. Forests also comprise non-living components such as lakes, ponds, soil, rocks, etc. A forest has rightly been defined as an area forming an ecosystem.
Human beings have been an inalienable part of these natural habitats living in and protecting forests. However there have been reports of human wild life conflicts which witness deaths of many wild life species. Acting on a petition filed by Wildlife groups, Hon’ble Supreme Court in February 2019, ordered the eviction of all forest dwellers in India, whose claims under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected. This number was as high as 1.89 million forest-dwelling families, according to a 2018 report of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The scale prompted the Centre to intervene, and the court stayed its order, asking states to disclose whether they had followed due process while rejecting the claims. Documents subsequently filed by nine state governments showed that at least 1.3 million of the claims have been rejected without following the due process. In October, a study of 26 protected areas of India showed that 13,445 families of mainly indigenous people were displaced between 1999 and 2019 because of the government’s wildlife policies. The forceful displacement has led to violent clashes between local communities, forest department and the police. Although, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country, this central Act was, however, not applicable or implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 14 years.
In the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Forests are largely distributed in Kashmir valley and in hilly area of Jammu region. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has also now implemented the Forest Rights Act 2006 which till date was not enforced even after 14 years of its enactment by central government. This central Act however, became applicable to J&K only after 31st October, 2019, recognizing the rights of forest dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory. Under the Act, members of the Scheduled Tribes dwelling in forests along with other traditional residents will have the right over forest land. It is here pertinent to mention that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country. Under the Act, members of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) dwelling in the forests along with other traditional residents will have the right over forest land for habitation or self-cultivation or livelihood. “...ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, and entitlement to seasonal resources among others. However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferrable.
For proper implementation of this act in Jammu and Kashmir, the administration has come up with a4-tier committees including State Level Monitoring Committee, District level committee, Sub Divisional level committee and Forest Rights Committee and these have have been put in place to implement the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 in J&K. The forest department has also been asked to come up with a suitable review mechanism along with monitoring formats for a routine evaluation of the procedure. The administration of Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir plans to complete by January 15, 2021, the ‘survey of claimants’ by the forest rights panels for assessing the nature and extent of rights claimed at the village-level. The sub-divisional committees have been asked to the scrutiny procedure of claims and preparation of ‘record of forest rights’ by January 31, 2021. Committees at the district-level shall consider and approve this by March 1, 2021.
Through this act, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) act, the forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers will be provided with the rights over forest land for the purpose of habitation or self-cultivation/livelihood; ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, and entitlement to seasonal resources among others. However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferrable. The law also empowers holders of forest rights and Gram Sabhas to protect the wildlife, biodiversity, catchment areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas. It further ensures that the habitats of forest dwellers are preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage.
The Act also provides that on the recommendation of the Gram Sabha, forest land up to one hectare can be diverted for the purpose of developing government facilities including schools, hospitals, minor water bodies, rainwater harvesting structures, minor irrigation canals, vocational training centres, non-conventional sources of energy, roads etc.
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