Other States

FRA implementation moving at a sluggish pace in Himachal Pradesh

A concrete structure peeps out amidst thickly forested hills in Himachal Pradesh. File.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Even as close to two-thirds of Himachal Pradesh’s geographical area is under forest land cover, the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 in the State has been moving at a sluggish pace and the process of recognizing of the rights of forest dwellers is far from complete.

Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ data on the status of implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which is commonly known as Forest Rights Act (FRA) for the period ending February 2021, shows that in Himachal Pradesh 2,903 claims, which include 2,642 individual ones and 261 community claims, were received. Of the total received claims only 164 have been distributed titles. The claims that have been distributed include 129 individual and 35 under the community category.

Some activists working on forest rights believe that the key reason behind the sluggishness in recognition and vesting of Community Forest Rights (CFR) and Community Forest Resource rights (CFRR) Rights under Section 3(1) of the Act is the non-committal attitude of State agencies and lack of coordination among the Tribal, Panchayati Raj, Forest and Revenue Departments.

“People on the ground are hardly aware about their rights, especially the community rights. It is true that individual claims are to be filed by individuals and in case of non-receipt of the individual claims there can be no claim. However, claims with regard to community rights and CFRR are to be prepared and submitted by Forest Rights Committee (FRC) on behalf of ‘Gram Sabha’,” said Amit Singh Chandel, a lawyer-cum-activist, who has been working on environment-related issues for over a decade now.

Fear of eviction

Fear of eviction is one reason why people do not come forward to stake claims, but it is the duty of government agencies to make them aware of their rights. Unfortunately this commitment is hardly seen, resulting in sluggish implementation of the FRA.

“Interestingly, Himachal government implemented the Act only in scheduled (tribal) areas in 2008 and it was only in 2012-13 that it was implemented in the entire State. The non-committal attitude of the State government could be gauged through letters sent by the then Chief Minister office to the then Union Environment Minister of State, asserting that the rights of the forest dwellers have been ‘settled’ long ago. The fact remains that the ‘settled’ rights in revenue or the forest settlement rules are mere concessions and can be withdrawn at any time, whereas the FRA through issuance of title and entry in the name of particular ‘Gram Sabha’ grants a secure and inalienable right to individual or the community,” said Mr. Chandel.

Notably, the Union Ministries of Tribal Affairs and Environment and Forest and Climate Change had in July this year, issued a joint declaration to the Chief Secretaries of States to review the implementation of the FRA, urging them for expeditious implementation of the Act, pointing out that “...Despite considerable lapse of time since the Act came into force, the process of recognition of rights is yet to be completed...”

The letter pointed out that forest dwelling scheduled tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) inhabiting forests for generations were in occupation of the forest land for centuries. Forests had been the source of their livelihood, identity, customs and traditions. However, their rights on their ancestral lands and their habitats had not been adequately recognised, it added.

“Insecurity of tenure and fear of eviction from the lands where they had lived and thrived for generations were the biggest reasons why tribal communities felt emotionally as well as physically alienated from forests and forest lands. This historical injustice needed correction and, therefore, the Government enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. It is an Act to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in FDSTs and OTFDs who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded.. The Act came into operation with the notification of Rules on January 1, 2008, for carrying out the provisions of the Act,” read the letter.

Submission in High Court

Recently, residents of Dhamchayan panchyat, which includes villages Panjond, Terang-Rajvan, Graman, Kharyan, Badi Bajgain, Tholtu Khod in Mandi district have approached the Himachal Pradesh High Court with a submission that their forest rights, especially community rights and community forest resource rights, in terms of Section 3(1) of FRA, 2006 have been violated.

“The lifeline of our Dhamchayan Panchayat is a water stream named ‘Panjod Nallah’, which flows about 14 km through half a dozen villages of our panchayat before merging into Uhal River. The source of the water body is located near Panjod village. Since times immemorial our lives as well as the economy of the entire cluster of the villages have revolved around this stream. The government in February this year, started a water lifting supply scheme, which lifts water from the ‘water source’ itself to provide water to some other villages. This is being done by ignoring the principle of sustainable use as defined in scheme of FRA, 2006 and Biodiversity Act, 2002 whereas no objection certificate for execution of the scheme has not been obtained in accordance with provisions of FRA Act and rules framed thereunder, forcing us to go to the court,” said Kahan Singh, 65, former village head of Dhamchayan.

Section 3(1)(i) of the Act provides for rights to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource (customary forest land to which the community has traditional access) which have been traditionally protected and conserved for sustainable use.

The State government, however, maintains that necessary process was followed as per provisions of Acts and rules while settling the rights of Dhamchayan panchayat. “During the process nil claims were received in the Gram Sabha after proclamation was made and the same was accepted by the Gram Sabha, Sub-Divisional Level Committee, District-Level Committee and recorded in the proceeding of district-level committee meeting. On the basis of process followed as per provisions of Act/Rules, the FRA certificate was issued in favour of Jal Shakti department,” read a government note.

Himachal Pradesh Tribal Development Principal Secretary Onkar Chand Sharma said: “We have already trained the staff surrounding the FRA implementation and wherever claims are being received they are being decided. Recently, elections of Panchayati Raj were held in the State and therefore the sub-divisional level and district-level committees are being reconstituted. 70%-80% committees have been reconstituted and we are in the process of re-notifying the committees because after the elections the members change. Besides, in Himachal Pradesh, the local and forest rights have been clearly defined in the revenue record and in the forest settlement rules long back, and hence applications are lower in the State. Directions have been issued and the staff has been trained to expedite the implementation”.


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 5:16:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/fra-implementation-moving-at-a-sluggish-pace-in-himachal-pradesh/article36678971.ece

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