Five reasons why claims by forest dwellers for their land are low – and rejections are high

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of more than 10 lakh families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forestlands across 16 states. The order came while the court was hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The petitioners had demanded that state governments evict those forest dwellers whose claims over traditional forestlands under the landmark law had been rejected.

…In the days since the ruling, tribal activists have denounced the order while some conservationists and bureaucrats in the forest service have welcomed it. A key part of their defence? According to the judgement, a total of 18.8 lakh titles have been granted under the Forest Rights Act, while 19 lakh claims have been rejected. In a statement released on Thursday, Wildlife First said all 19 lakh rejected claims were bogus. It said: “The Supreme Court is focusing only on recovery of forest land from bogus claimants whose claims stand rejected.”

The answer to these contrasting perspectives lies in how the forest rights act is being implemented — how are claims submitted and how are they processed? This report, a followup to what I filed shortly after the judgement was posted online, takes a closer look at those processes. The answer, in short, is that all rejected claims do not indicate bogus claimants. Do read.

Centre’s weak legal defence of forest act means ten lakh families could be evicted, say activists

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to evict over 10 lakh forest-dwellers whose claims over forestland have been rejected, a direction that will hurt some of India’s most vulnerable people.

The order came in a case on the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act, which was passed in 2006 aiming to “recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded”.

The harsh direction was possible, allege Adivasi activists and lawyers, because the lawyers of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs mounted a weak defence of the Act. The case has dragged on for over 10 years under multiple benches, with the Supreme Court yet to answer questions on constitutional validity of the law.

There is an incredible suboptimality here. Some of the claims by the petitioners are indeed valid. As are the concerns of the tribal activists. And so, right now, I am just sitting around holding my head thinking about the hideous complexity of it all and, equally, the casual ease with which both the tribal ministry and the Supreme Court are approaching this question.

is the forest rights act being implemented well? (the answer is ‘no’)

Last month, union tribal Minister Jual Oram told the Lok Sabha that India is making “satisfactory progress” implementing the “Forest Rights Act” (FRA). However, a closer look at the numbers he submitted in the house indicates otherwise.
my story on how the government’s claims about “satisfactory” implementation of the forest rights act are garbage. what is underway is a game with statistics.

The Act That Disagreed With Its Preamble

I have waited the longest time to upload this. I had spent all of 2009 studying the drafting of the “Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. I finished writing it. Sent the paper to a journal called Conservation And Society. Got busy with my job at the Economic Times. And when the reviewers’ comments came, I was too neck deep in journalism to be able to rework the paper. Well, a year and a half after their feedback, I finally finished reworking it.

But, sigh, I am still to send it to the journal. In the meantime, here is the abstract. This, from what I know, is one of the few accounts of the pre-legislative process in India, of how laws evolve from a “political promise” into a “legal reality”.

In 2006, India passed an Act recognising hitherto unrecognised rights of tribals and other forest-dwellers over the forests that sustain them. However, for all its merits, this Act, ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ is a puzzling document. It is ambiguous in parts. There are differences between its text and its preamble. It leaves critical questions on operationalisation unanswered. All this has marred the Act’s implementation. To explain how contradictions and ambiguities entered the text of what should have been a precise legal document, this paper reconstructs the drafting process through which the Act took shape. Briefly, it argues that every actor who participated in the drafting of the “Forest Rights Act” the people movements, the Left, the Tribal Ministry, the Environment Ministry, the wildlifers had a different conception of the problem the Bill had to resolve and, consequently, the provisions it needed to contain. There were few attempts to harmonise these divergent views. The final Act emerged from a law-making process where no actor influenced more than a few provisions. In the process, the meaning of the final text became an incidental outcome a combination of parts that do not fit together very well.

on the latest cabinet reshuffle

the latest cabinet reshuffle underwhelmed most people. no big heads rolled. the larger ministeries stayed untouched. and parts of the media swiftly wrote it off as minor and inconsequential.

in this article, my colleague devika and i argue that there are at least two significant moves in this reshuffle. jairam ramesh moves from the environment ministry to the rural development ministry. and kishore chandra deo enters the cabinet as the minister for tribal affairs and panchayati raj.

why so? because it looks like an attempt to win back the rural and tribal votes the Congress has progressively ended up alienating in the past few years.

There’s a bit in common between what the two new ministers represent and the task ahead of them. Both men are associated with the landmark legislations of the UPA-I, both of which are suffering from implementation problems: the employment guarantee programme in the case of Ramesh and the Forest Rights Act in the case of Deo. The reallocation puts them in charge to fix this.

in this story, we look at the tasks in front of them. i wrote the bit about deo and the tribal ministry. much of this is stuff i should have written a long, long time ago. more precisely, on the day the MoTA rejected the NAC’s reccos on how to better implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) saying FRA implementation was going super. yet another in the long rich tradition of ministeries/bureaucracies more accountable internally, to superiors and institutional imperatives, than to the country around them.

Deo also needs to increase the relevance of the ministry of tribal affairs. Every central ministry runs its own programmes for tribal welfare, which Deo’s ministry has to monitor. In addition, the ministry has its welfare schemes-like hostels and scholarships for tribal-being implemented by state governments. The ministry has been taking a narrow view of its responsibilities.

In his critique, (NAC member NC Saxena) writes: “…(the approach of the ministry has been to) confine its attention to its own budget and schemes under its control.” The Parliamentary standing committee on social justice and empowerment, in 2010, had said the coordination of the tribal ministry with other ministries “was not at the desired level”…

…another example is the decision to disallow Vedanta’s mining project in Niyamgiri, Orissa. It was the ministry of environment, under Jairam Ramesh, that intervened to check whether the rights of the Dongria Kondh tribe in the proposed mining area had been recognised under the FRA. “The ministry of tribal affairs should have issued that circular,” says Y Giri Rao, executive director, Vasundhara, an NGO implementing the FRA in Orissa.

i had met deo earlier during the glory days of working on the FRA paper and had been impressed back then. am curious to see how the ministry will behave under him. am also wondering if implementing FRA and PeSA will put the ministry on the warpath against the PMO et al. let us see.