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India – “The State of the Forest Rights Act: Undoing of historical injustice withered”

Press Release from the The Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network claiming that the Forest Rights Act has not been properly implemented with 54% of claims made under it having been rejected.

"....The claims under the FRA are not being recognised in the protected areas such as National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries...." In many cases, more than one person/family has been granted title over the same plot of land

New Delhi: The Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN) in its report “The State of the Forest Rights Act: Undoing of historical injustice withered” (http://www.aitpn.org/Reports/Forest_Rights_Act_2012.pdf) released today stated that the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is not being implemented properly across the country.

As of 31 January 2012, a total of 31,68,478 claims have been received and 27,24,162 claims (85.98%) have been disposed off. Out of the total claims disposed off, 12,51,490 titles (45.94%) were distributed and 14,72,672 claims (54%) were rejected. In terms of rejection rate, Uttarakhand is on the top with 100% followed by Himachal Pradesh (99.62%), Bihar (98.12%), Karnataka (95.66%), Uttar Pradesh (80.48%), West Bengal (73.12%), Maharashtra (67.91%), Madhya Pradesh (63.32%), Chhattisgarh (55.86%), Jharkhand (53.13%), Assam (50.94%), Rajasthan (49.85%), Andhra Pradesh (47.76%), Gujarat (30.95%), Orissa (30.75%), Kerala (16.95%), and Tripura (15.07%). The rejection rate of as many as 11 states is above 50 per cent.

“The claims are being rejected on frivolous grounds. The Forest Rights Committees have not been constituted at the Gram Sabha level in several states as provided in the Act while the forest officials have been obstructing the process of verification and decision making at various level. The claimants are denied proper hearing of their cases and opportunity to file appeal against the rejections. In an overwhelming number of cases, the rejections are not being communicated to the claimants.” – stated Mr Paritosh Chakma, Director of AITPN.

“The Community Forest Rights (CFRs) are not being recognized and in many States even the forms are not supplied. The claims under the FRA are not being recognised in the protected areas such as National Parks and Wildlife sanctuaries. The Other Traditional Forest Dwellers are being denied rights under the FRA.” – further added Mr Chakma.

Even in cases where land titles are issued, they are vaguely worded and often without clear maps or demarcation of any boundary, area etc. In many cases, more than one person/family has been granted title over the same plot of land.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007 actually overrules the Act to deny rights to the beneficiaries. In clear violation of the FRA, under Rule 14(3) of the Forest Rights Rule 2007 the Sub-Divisional Level Committee has been empowered to reject the claims without any explanation.

The Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs which have jointly constituted the National Committee on the FRA have undermined the National Committee. On 3 August 2010, Kanti Lal Bhuria, then Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, raised objections to the functioning of the National Committee on the FRA. Further, in October 2010, Jairam Ramesh, then Union Minister of Environment and Forests in a letter to the Chairperson of the National Committee expressed unhappiness over the suspension of a Divisional Forest Officer by the Uttar Pradesh government after an investigation by senior officials vindicated the findings of irregularities as pointed out in the report of the National Committee on FRA.

The Action Taken Report on the Tenth Report, “Implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 - Rules Made Thereunder” of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment has been placed before the Parliament on 22.12.2011. Though the Ministry of Tribal Affairs claimed that out of the 23 recommendations, 12 have been accepted by the Government, in reality the recommendations were only forwarded to the State Governments.

AITPN recommended, among others, that the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes be provided with adequate financial and human resources to examine the complaints pertaining to the claims under the Forest Rights Act.

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