The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

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The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (Act no. 2 of 2007)- FRA being the Act of Indian Parliament, has received the assent of the hon’ble President of India on 29th December, 2006. The Act was passed from Lok Sabha on 15th December, 2006 and on 18th December, 2006 from Rajya Sabha. However, the same was brought into force on 31st December, 2007 i.e. one year after it got assented. The object or purpose of the Act for which it is enacted is to provide for recognition and vesting in the Scheduled Tribes, who are having forest dwellings and other traditional forest dwellers who were being residing in such forests from generations without having their rights recorded, the forest rights and occupation in forest land. Similarly, the Act also makes provisions for providing a framework for recording such forest rights and providing nature of evidence which will be required for such recognition and vesting. Moreover, again it provides for recognising the rights of such people to include responsibilities and authority for sustainable use, conservation of biological diversity, etc. The Act was extended to the entire territory of India, but there is an exception State i.e. the State of Jammu and Kashmir, where the provisions of this Act are not having applicability. Chapter Ist is concerning the preliminary provisions like short titles and commencement, etc. Section 2 wherein is important as it is dealing with some important definitions which are necessary for understanding actual intention of Legislature behind providing this enactment.

Similarly, the Chapter II of the Act is important where section 3 provides for a list of rights of those who resides at Forest, including Schedule Tribes dwellers and other traditional dweller. The list includes right to hold and live in forest land under occupation for habitation, certain community rights to have nistar, zamindari, etc., right over minor forest produce, traditionally collected, to use and dispose of, right to use and having title on fish and other products of water bodies, etc. All these and several other provided right are vested with these forest dwellers under this provision. Besides these rights, these people are also vested with the most important rights to have schools, dispensary or hospital, Anganwadis, fair price shops, etc. for which the Central Government is required to provide diversion of forest land without having regard to the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.

Chapter III under section 4 provides for recognition and vesting of forest by the Central Government, which are forthwith done by the enactment of this Act. It is given that all the rights enumerated under section 3 as aforesaid, are vested in the Scheduled Tribes forest dwellers and other forest dwellers. However, the rights recognised under this Act connected with the wildlife habitats of National Parks and Sanctuaries can be altered or modified, subject to certain conditions as provided under this section. Sub section (3) provides for one another condition on such recognition and vesting that the forest land should have been occupied by such Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers before the 13th December, 2005. Such rights are required to get registered in along with the name of spouses if the person married and will be heritable and non-transferable rights. Similarly, the section 5 of the Act provides for duties of the forest rights holder, Gram sabha, etc. to protect the wild life, forest and biodiversity and to ensure adjoining catchments area, water, etc. are adequately protected, also to ensure preservation of habitat of forest concerned dwellers from any destructive practices and finally to ensure again that decisions of Gram Sabha in regulating the access to community forest resources, etc.

The next Chapter is dealing with vesting of authority in the concerned Gram Sabha to determine the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights which are to be provided to such forest dwellers under this Act. The Gram Sabha is required to pass a resolution to this effect and the Sub divisional level Committee to be provided with such copy thereof. The Sub Divisional Lever Committee is to be constituted by the State Government and any aggrieved person of resolution can file petition within given period of 6 days from the date of such resolution passed, before such Committee for its determination.  Even the State Government is to constitute a District Level Committee for deciding petitions against decision of the Sub-Divisional Level Committee. Similarly, the another Committee i.e. State Level Monitoring Committee is to constituted by the State Government for monitoring process of recognition and vesting of such forest rights.

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Chapter V provides for penal provisions, where it is given that, if any authority or Committee or officers or members thereof breaches any provisions of this Act or rule made in pursuance with this Act, then they should be punished under this provision, and penalty should be fine extending to 1000 rupees. For taking cognizance of such offence there should be notice of 60 days to the State Level Monitoring Committee and on such notice if such Committee has not proceeded against such Authority who is default, then only cognizance can be taken by the Court.

The Last chapter contains miscellaneous provisions, Section 9 whereof says that all members and officers are public servants. And section 10 says that, if any action of any officer or employee of the Central or State Government or even of these Governments themselves is taken in good faith or by any Chairperson, members or otherwise officers, employees has done anything in good faith then against them no suits or legal proceeding should be maintained under this Act. Provisions of section 11 requires appointment of the Ministry of the Central Government dealing with Tribal Affairs, any officer or authority to be authorised as Nodal Agency by the Central Government under this Act. The Central Government is further empowered to issue directions to every authorities under this Act especially under Chapter IV thereof, who should be bounden to followed the same in performing their duties and powers. Moreover, the Central Government is also empowered under section 14 of the Act to provide for Rules which should be made to carry out the provisions of this Act and for the other matters enlisted in the clauses of section 14(2).

Recently, there is a Bill namely, ‘The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Amendment Bill, 2014 (Bill no. 46 of 2014) which was tabled before the House of People for seeking amendments in this Act. The amending bill the only change in the definition of the term ‘Other traditional forest dwellers’ which was originally defined as includes every member or community who has resided in the forest for bona fide livelihood needs for at least three generations prior to the 13th December, 2005. Now the proposes definition is to include any member or community who has primarily resided and has engaged in agriculture on the forest land or who depend on the forests or forest land for bona fide livelihood needs.

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by Faim Khalilkhan Pathan.