In India, forest rights mean forest conservation

GS 2- Welfare Schemes for Vulnerable Sections of the population by the Centre and States and the Performance of these Schemes; Mechanisms, Laws, Institutions and Bodies constituted for the Protection and Betterment of these Vulnerable Sections.

GS 3 – Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Source :  The Indian Express dated 29/06/2021


On June 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the UN High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought. He reiterated that India was on track to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030, citing the example of the Banni grassland in Gujarat where the region’s highly degraded lands were being restored and the livelihoods of pastoralists supported using what he termed a “novel approach.”

Banni grasslands
  • Banni grassland is spread over 2,618 kilometres and accounts for almost 45 per cent of the pastures in Gujarat.
  • It comprises 48 hamlets / villages organised into 19 panchayats, with a population of about 40,000.
  • Two ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands, are juxtaposed in Banni.
  • The area is rich in flora and fauna, with 192 species of plants, 262 species of birds, several species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.]
  • However, climate change and the invasion by Prosopis juliflora — a species that covers nearly 54 per cent of the grassland — have severely impacted its unique ecology.
  • A study conducted earlier this year recognises that unless action is taken, Banni grassland is headed for severe fodder scarcity.
  • The Banni’s pastoralist communities (Maldharis) uproot Prosopis in the pre-monsoon period and when it rains, the native grass species’ regenerate from their rootstock.
  • Local communities applying their deep knowledge of the local ecology to become “decision-makers” in restoring their commons is indeed novel in India. 
  • They are empowered through the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
What is FRA?

The act recognizes and vests the forest rights and occupation in Forest land in Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who have been residing in such forests for generations.

What are the different kinds of  Rights provided by FRA 2006?
  • Title rights:- It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares.
  • Use rights:- The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
  • Relief and development rights:- To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
  • Forest management rights:- It includes the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
Significance of FRA
  • Our forests are grappling with degradation, an important contributor to GHG emissions. More than 40 per cent of the forest cover is open, often degraded.
  • India has committed to restore 26 million hectares of degraded forests and lands by 2030 under the Bonn pledge.
  • As part of its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement, it has also targeted creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes by 2030 through additional forest and tree cover.
  • Forest restoration is an important climate mitigation strategy.
    • Beyond carbon sequestration, its benefits include biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. India’s potential to remove carbon through forest restoration is among the highest in the Global South as per a 2020 study published in Nature, Ecology and Evolution.
    • At 123.3 million, India also has the greatest number of people living near areas with forest restoration opportunities (within 8km).

By assigning rights to protect, manage and restore around 40 million hectare of forests to village-level democratic institutions, CFR rights under FRA tackle these issues. 

Challenges in FRA
  • Unawareness at the Lower level of forest officials.
  • There has been deliberate sabotage by the forest bureaucracy, both at the Centre and the states, and to some extent by big corporates.
  • Intensive process of documenting communities’ claims under the FRA makes the process both cumbersome and harrowing for illiterate tribals.
  • Rough maps of community and individual claims are prepared by Gram Sabha which at times often lack technical knowhow and suffers from educational incapacity.
  • Government’s role of allowing commercial plantations in degraded land is also debated and questioned as the degraded land makes 40% of forests.
  • Case studies/stats
    • In the last decade, tribal communities across the country have filed 4.21 million claims to acquire forest land under FRA. But, just 40 per cent or 1.74 million of them have been approved
    • In Banni too, title deeds formally recognising the CFR rights of the pastoralists are yet to be issued. 
Way forward

There are compelling reasons for India to recognise and support CFR rights.

  • Community forests with legally recognised rights are healthier and associated with lower deforestation rates, higher carbon storage and biodiversity compared to other forests. 
  • In its 2019 Special Report on Climate Change and Land, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also noted that “land titling and recognition programmes, particularly those that authorise and respect indigenous and communal tenure, can lead to improved management of forests, including for carbon storage.”
  • Recently Maharashtra modified the FRA-  Governor issued a notification for FRA, that will enable Tribal and other traditional forest dwelling families to build houses in neighbourhood forest areas – will prevent migration of forest dwelling families outside their native villages and provide them housing areas in the forest land.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration runs from 2021 through 2030. India’s restoration commitments are amongst the most ambitious in the world.
It also has a legal framework — the Forest Rights Act — that facilitates an approach internationally acknowledged as essential for combating climate change. All that is needed now is to recognise and support community forest rights.

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