There is a new ray of hope for thousands of Adivasis and other forest-dwelling tribes in the State on the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 — also called the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — which recognises their rights to forest resources for livelihood and other needs.
This follows a joint communique issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs calling for expeditious implementation of the Act by all the States “in letter and spirit”.
The communique, dated July 6, also directs the State Tribal Welfare Department and Forest Department to jointly work out a strategic framework in consultation with the Department of Rural Development to ensure extension of benefits under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the National Rural Livelihood Mission to forest dwellers.
The Forest Department has been instructed to take up projects for value chain additions, including capacity building of primary collectors, promote new harvesting methods, and storage, processing and marketing of non-timber forest products, under schemes implemented by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
There is a thrust on initiating agroforestry, horticulture, medicinal plantation and more under various schemes of the government to help the livelihood of forest rights holders besides improving the forest and tree cover.
Non-governmental organisations working on tribal issues said the joint communique was an acknowledgement that the implementation of FRA so far was not only tardy, but also ineffectual.
“This is evident in the joint statement which states that despite considerable lapse of time since the Act came into force, the process of recognition of rights was yet to be completed,” said S. Sreekanth of Development through Education (DEED), an NGO working on tribal rights and related issues.
He said there could be not less than 70,000 to 80,000 Adivasis in Karnataka and only about 30,000 of them had applied for benefits under FRA. However, the total number of applications filed under the FRA from both Adivasi communities and other traditional forest dwellers could be around 2.5 lakh in the State, he added.
But there are other concerns over the development as the Centre has abdicated its responsibility by stating that the “State governments are responsible for implementation of the Act and issues related to it need to be resolved at the State level”.
“Our experience when it comes to dealing with the State government does not inspire confidence as a majority of the applications filed under FRA were rejected by the authorities on questionable grounds, which led the Supreme Court to order eviction of such applicants from the forests,” said Mr. Sreekanth.
But subsequently, the order was stayed by the court itself and the State was directed to review the applications and file a report.