Chhattisgarh has become the second state in the country after Odisha to recognise the forest rights claims as well as the forest lands acquired by Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. So far, four lakh individual and 24,000 community forest rights certificates have been distributed in the state while recognition has been given to 3.42 lakh-hectare land in individual claims and 9.50 lakh-hectare land in community claims. Chhattisgarh stands second at the national level both in terms of providing recognition to forest rights claims and forest lands.
- According to the figures by Union tribal affairs ministry, Odisha is the number one State in distribution of forest rights certificates while Maharastra is number one in providing recognition to forestlands. Chhattisgarh, on the other hand comes number two in the list of both the categories.
- Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel organised a State-level workshop on forest rights and reviewed its implementation.
- He said that it is the State Governments’ priority to provide forest rights to all claimants of forest rights certificates. The Government will also assure that residents in each village get classified community forest rights.
- The CM participated in division-level workshops on forest rights at Bastar division headquarters Jagdalpur on May 30 and Sarguja division headquarters Ambikapur on June 3 to encourage ground level workers and provided guidance for its better implementation.
- During the workshop, it was found out that due to procedural shortcomings a large number of forest rights claims have been rejected. On this the CM issued directions to review rejected applications and provide forest rights to other conventional eligible forest rights beneficiaries.
- As a result of which, directions have been issued to each collector and forest officer for reorganisation of forest rights committees at village level. Simultaneously directions have also been issued for formation of district-level committees and departments.
- After reorganisation of these committees, claims received from these committees after verification will be reviewed again. In the first phase, those claims that have been rejected earlier will be considered. The number of such claims is more than 4 lakh in the State.
- In the second phase, those applications will be taken for review in which certificates have been issued but discrepancies have been found between area of claimed and approved land.
- Forest Rights Act 2006 has been implemented to provide recognition to communities having acquired forest land rights.
What is Forest Rights Act?
- In the colonial era, the British diverted abundant forest wealth of the nation to meet their economic needs. While procedure for settlement of rights was provided under statutes such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, these were hardly followed.
- As a result, tribal and forest-dwelling communities, who had been living within the forests in harmony with the environment and the ecosystem, continued to live inside the forests in tenurial insecurity, a situation which continued even after independence as they were marginalised.
- The symbiotic relationship between forests and forest-dwelling communities found recognition in the National Forest Policy, 1988.
- The policy called for the need to associate tribal people in the protection, regeneration and development of forests.
- The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood.
What did the order say?
- On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of lakhs belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) categories across 16 States, whose claim as forest-dwellers has been rejected under the Forest Rights Act.
- A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee ordered the Chief Secretaries of many of these States to evict those whose claims were finally rejected. The court directed that the eviction be carried out by July 24, 2019.
- The Bench, in a 19-page order, cautioned the States that if the evictions were not carried out within the stipulated time, “the matter would be viewed seriously.”
- The Chief Secretaries of the States were asked to file affidavits by July 12, explaining why the rejected claimants had not been evicted. It ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the “encroachment positions.”
What is the problem?
- The February 13 order is based on affidavits filed by the States. The affidavits, however, do not make clear whether the due process of law was observed before the claims were rejected.
- The Centre argues that the rejection of claims is particularly high in the States hit by Left-Wing Extremism, where tribal population is high.
- The forest land claims of these tribes and forest-dwellers are mostly rejected by the States. Being poor and illiterate, living in remote areas, they do not know the appropriate procedure for filing claims.
- The gram sabhas, which initiate the verification of their claims, are low on awareness of how to deal with them. The rejection orders are not even communicated to these communities.
What lies ahead?
- On February 28, the court stayed its order, though it said “the mighty and the undeserving” who have encroached on forest land would be shown no mercy.
- It has decided to examine whether due process was followed by the gram sabhas and the States under the Forest Rights Act before the claims were rejected.