Srinagar- Even though the government of India had implemented the Forest Rights Act(FRA) 2006, soon after abrogating the special status in the erstwhile state of J&K, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs has no data on land rights provided to the forest dwellers in the Union Territory over the past three years.
On Wednesday, while invoking the question about FRA, member of Rajya Sabha, Dr Sasmit Patra asked the Government to disclose the details of “total land rights that were provided under Forest Rights Act, 2006 to the forest dwellers in the country over the past three years.”
In response to this, Minister of State for Tribal Affairs, Bishweshwar Tudu informed Rajya Sabha that a total of 20, 00,628 land rights were distributed among dwellers as of 31st August. But, while revealing the state wise data on the number of people who benefited from the Union Government’s scheme, there were no figures available with the Minister of Tribal Affairs on the number of people in J&K who were provided land rights under Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the last three years.
Under the FRA—officially the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006— the STs and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) have three important sets of rights: Individual Forest Rights, Community Forest Rights and Community Forest Resource Rights.
The FRA recognises the rights of the forest-dwelling tribal communities and OTFDs to forest resources on which these communities are dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation, and other socio-cultural needs. This includes the right to land for graveyards, religious places, schools, community centers, panchayat (village self-governing bodies) buildings, health centers and so on.
Talking to Kashmir Observer, RTI activist, Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat said that, “Thus the FRA empowers the forest dwellers to access and use forest resources in the manner that they have traditionally been accustomed to and also to protect, conserve and manage forests and protect themselves from unlawful evictions. The Act also provides for basic development facilities for communities of forest dwellers, such as education, health, nutrition and infrastructure facilities.”
Pertinently, the implementation of forest rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and recognition of forest rights is a continuous activity and is implemented by the State Governments.
Subsequently, the J&K Government was entitled to provide the rights of the Act in J&K and make sure that all the land rights that should’ve been given to the Forest dwellers, are provided as per the given law. But, as per activists, the rollout of the FRA failed to provide the nomadic communities with the Act’s promised benefits.
“The land rights of FRA makes sure that the forest dwellers are given the right of having a graveyard, subsidy on timber, free timber, authority over herbal plants and several other things but since no land rights have been given to such people in J&K, they’re vulnerable.” Bhat said.
Recently, J&K’s LG Manoj Sinha had said that the FRA had given the people of J&K new hope but activists have challenged LG’s quote.
“But when land rights under FRA weren’t provided to the entitled beneficiaries, how exactly has it provided hope?” Bhat asked.
Notably, as the union Government has failed to provide any data on the Land Rights provided in J&K, it has created strong apprehensions that the Nomads may have to continue their struggle to reserve land rights for their community.
“Even though they’ve been living in these pastures for the last ten generations, unfortunately, they’re being termed as ineligible to have rights on that land.” The RTI activist said.
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