Forest Rights Act a bane or boon?

Disappearing forests:A stretch of agriculture fields which were once part of the dense Mangi forests in Sirpur (U) mandal of Adilabad district.— PHOTO: S. HARPAL SINGH  

An estimated two lakh hectares of reserve forests illegally denuded between 2008 and 2011

With hardly any greenery to camouflage the loss, the dry summer months have exposed a massive scale of destruction of forests in the backward tribal district of Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, (FRA) has emerged as a major factor having generated, paradoxically, decimation of forests on an unprecedented scale.

While the Union government intended to provide relief to tribal people by way of recognising rights on lands being tilled by them in the reserve forests through the FRA, a wrong message got percolated to grass roots level. In the absence of proper awareness on its provisions, people began clearing new wooded areas to convert them into agriculture fields with the hope that the government will eventually ‘regularise’ them.

It has confirmed the fears of conservationists and pristine forests began dwindling at an alarming rate reducing the 43 per cent forest cover in Adilabad to below 20 per cent of its 16,000 sq km of area.

Trees in an estimated two lakh hectares of reserve forest were illegally felled between 2008 and 2011 putting Adilabad among the districts where worst kind of tree felling has taken place.

That the scale of deforestation is mind-boggling and can be seen from the numerous roads that criss-cross the terrain. For example, clearings as deep as 500 metres which can be seen on either side of the 35-km long Nirmal bypass of the NH 7, provide an inkling into the severity of the problem.

“We were simply unable to stop the large scale decimation of forests just because we were outnumbered by raiding villagers. In hindsight, I think the FRA ought to have been delayed until an implementation mechanism was put in place,” observes a Forest officer who recalls his stint here when the FRA got implemented.

As many as 57,000 individual and community claims for recognition of rights were received covering an extent of over two lakh hectares of land being tilled or in use of tribal farmers at that point of time.

“We continue to receive fresh claims but, we are not entertaining those in the absence of guidelines for second phase implementation of the FRA,” says the Project Officer of Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), Utnoor, the agency which settles the claims.

FRA intended to provide relief to tribal people by recognising their rights on lands tilled by them

‘57,000 individual and community claims received for recognition of rights over two lakh hectares’

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