New Central guidelines for protection, management of community forest rights: A result of civil society advocacy

communityBy Manohar*

To boost the recognition of Community Forest Resources (CFR) and its protection and management by community people under Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 in the country, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), Government of India recently issued CFR Guidelines (vide letter No. 20311/16/2015 FRA) on April 23, 2015.

The CFR Guidelines have been issued using Section 12 of the FRA, 2006 and it has been sent to all the Chief Secretary of the State governments marking copies to the Principal Secretary of the Tribal Welfare Department of all States.

MoTA has asserted that the guidelines are issued looking to the slow progress of recognition the Community Forest Resources rights in a number of states. In the Guidelines, MoTA has clarified that “as per Section 3(1)(i) and section 5 of FRA, the authority to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage CFR is the Gram Sabha, along with the Committee for protecting of wildlife, forest and biodiversity constituted under FR Rules under Section 4(1)(e)”.

“Each Gram Sabha shall be free to develop its own simple format for conservation and management plan of the CFR which its members can understand with ease and may also comprise of the rules and regulations governing forest access, use and conservation.” MoTA has emphasized.

Guidelines also “authorizes the Gram Sabha and the Committee under Forest Rights Rules 4(1)(e) to modify the micro plan or management plan of the Forest Department to the extent necessary in order to integrate the same with  conservation and management plan for the CFR as passed by the Gram Sabha”, it says.

To provide necessary financial support to the Gram Sabha for the better protection and management of CFR, MoTA has stressed that “the State government shall make available, through its departments, funds available under tribal sub-plan, MGNREGA funds for the forestry available with the Gram Panchayat, funds under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Managment and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to the committee at the Gram Sabha constituted under FR Rules 4(1) (e) for the development of CFR. The State Government may also send proposals to MoTA for development of CFR as per FR (Rules 16).”

MoTA has clarified that “CFR area as recognized under section 3(1)(i) of FRA shall constitute a new category of ‘forest area’ in record of rights(RoR) and be suitably incorporated in the record of the forest Department”.

Further making the District Level Committee (DLC) accountable for implementation of the guidelines, MoTA has emphasized   the FR (amendment) Rules 12 (b) (4) and asserted that “in case where no community forest resource rights are recognized in a village, the reasons for the same shall be recorded in committee by the Secretary of District Level committee (DLC)”

MoTA has also asked the FRA State Level Monitoring Committee(SLMC) of all the States to furnish  detail information on the CFR claims, CFR Rights recognized and the extend of forest land (area) recognized under FRA in their  monthly and Quarterly progress report.

The forest rights campaign, Campaign for Survival and Dignity(CSD), which was consistently advocated with MoTA for issuance of this guideline, has appreciated MoTA for this and said, “When   the Forest Department in many States is illegally trying hard to keep its control over forests despite FRA and is seriously engaged to sabotage rights recognized under Section 3(1)(i) of FRA, this CFR Guidelines issued by MoTA will end the misconception and confusion exists at the Forest Department level and shall empower the Gram Sabha to take over the forest and plan for the protection and management of its CFR area with the traditional knowledge and practice they have”.

In another letter(vide No-2301/16/15 FRA) dated April 23, 2015, MoTA has also clarified the word Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), Primitive Tribal Group “habitat” rights recognized under Section 3(1)(e) and defined under Section 2(h) of FRA. It clarified that “PTG habitat” includes community tenures of habitat and habitation which may be recognized over customary tenures used by the PTG/PVTG for habitation, livelihood, social, economic, spirituals, sacred, religious and other purposes.” The clarification was issued due to misinterpretation of the word ‘habitat” by many states, including Chhatisgarh, limiting it to ‘aawas’ as home or homestead only.

Earlier, after receiving complaints from the forest rights groups of different states over various FRA implementation issues,  MoTA had directed to Tribal Secretary of all the State governments (vide its letter N0-23011/12/15 FRA) on April 10, 2015 to expedite the CFR rights recognition process through training and workshop of the personnel involved, to communicate every claimant on rejection of its claim, to ensure protection of rights under Section 4(5) of FRA over forest land,  including sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves, to ensure that the Gram Sabha’s decision are taken into consideration prior to relocation from Protected Areas, to implement the provision of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for Minor Forest Produce (MFP) in Protected Areas and  to create permanent record of rights(RoR) of the forest land recognized under FRA, 2006.

It is to be noted that these Guidelines and Circulars are issued within the working period of Dr Hrushikesh Panda, who recently retired as the Secretary, MoTA, and has been well known as a great defender of Forest Rights Act. He had joined as MoTA’s Secretary during UPA-II and continued in the Modi government till his retirement in April 2015 and during his tenure he was in clash with the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) over its attempt to ignore “Gram Sabha’s consent” required under FRA for diversion of forest land for non forestry works including liner projects.

*Campaign for Survival and Dignity, Odisha

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