ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Process Betrays the Spirit: Forest Rights Act in Bengal

The implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 has created controversy in West Bengal. The gram sabha, the basic unit in the process of forest rights recognition, has been replaced by the gram sansad, denoting the village level constituency under the panchayati raj system. This has been followed by contiguous arrangements as well as initiatives which are inconsistent with the Act. All these factors have led to undermining the spirit of the Act to promote community governance of forests, which has invoked stiff opposition from forest dwellers in the region.

More than two years after the n otification of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006,1 the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) has constituted a committee to study the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by its notification on 11 February 2010.2

The composition of the committee, dominated by the representatives from MOEF, has evoked harsh criticism from different corners. Many organisations and activists working for the forest tribals have expressed their doubts over the impartial functioning of the committee, while accusing the ongoing violation of forest rights by the state forest departments (FD). However, the raison d’être behind such a committee cannot be brushed aside, particularly in the context of a perceived sabotage or denial of community rights as enshrined in the act by the governments. Besides, even after a long delay and several anomalies in the distribution process of title deeds of the land at the i ndividual level, most of the state governments till date have neither framed a clear procedure nor encouraged claims to be filed and recognised for community rights. This is amply evident from the r ecent statement on the implementation status of the FRA, 2006 by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MOTA) as on 28 February 2010.3 The statement shows that except for 48 titles out of 4,343 community claims in Assam and 58 titles out of 1,895 community claims in Orissa, none of the 27 states are either ready or have distributed community title deeds so far. Meanwhile, the FD’s initiative to promote joint forest management (JFM) under the National Afforestation Programme continues to undermine the Section-4(e) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007, which clearly states that

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