The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

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To understand the real implications of the act in discussion it is first required to have some background regarding article 371 of the Indian constitution which has undergone substantial changes via amendments. The original article 371 states: Special provision with respect to the States of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the President may by order made with respect to the State of Maharashtra or Gujarat, provide for any special responsibility of the Governor forthe establishment of separate development boards for Vidarbha, Marathwada, and the rest of Maharashtra or, as the case may be, Saurashtra, Kutch and the rest of these boards will be placed each year before the State Legislative Assembly; the equitable allocation of funds for developmental expenditure over the said areas, subject to the requirements of the State as a whole; and an equitable arrangement providing adequate facilities for technical education and vocational training, and adequate opportunities for employment in service under the control of the State Government, in respect of all the said areas, subject to the requirements of the State as a whole .

The amendments made to article 371 are: Article 371A (13th Amendment Act, 1962), Nagaland: This provision was inserted after a 16-point agreement between the Centre and the Naga People’s Convention in 1960, which led to the creation of Nagaland in 1963. Parliament cannot legislate in matters of Naga religion or social practices, Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, and ownership and transfer of land without concurrence of the state Assembly.

Article 371B (22nd Amendment Act, 1969), Assam: The President may provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Assembly consisting of members elected from the state’s tribal areas. Article 371C (27th Amendment Act, 1971), Manipur: The President may provide for the constitution of a committee of elected members from the Hill areas in the Assembly, and entrust “special responsibility” to the Governor to ensure its proper functioning. Article 371D (32nd Amendment Act, 1973; substituted by The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014), Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: President must ensure “equitable opportunities and facilities” in “public employment and education to people from different parts of the state”. He may require the state government to organise “any class or classes of posts in a civil service of, or any class or classes of civil posts under, the State into different local cadres for different parts of the State”. He has similar powers vis-à-vis admissions in educational institutions. Article 371E: Allows for the establishment of a university in Andhra Pradesh by a law of Parliament. But this is not a “special provision” in the sense of the others in this part. Article 371F (36th Amendment Act, 1975), Sikkim: The members of the Legislative Assembly of Sikkim shall elect the representative of Sikkim in the House of the People. To protect the rights and interests of various sections of the population of Sikkim, Parliament may provide for the number of seats in the Assembly, which may be filled only by candidates from those sections. Article 371G (53rd Amendment Act, 1986), Mizoram: Parliament cannot make laws on “religious or social practices of the Mizos, Mizo customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law, ownership and transfer of land… unless the Assembly… so decides”. Article 371H (55th Amendment Act, 1986), Arunachal Pradesh: The Governor has a special responsibility with regard to law and order, and “he shall, after consulting the Council of Ministers, exercise his individual judgment as to the action to be taken”. Article 371J (98th Amendment Act, 2012), Karnataka: There is a provision for a separate development board for the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. There shall be “equitable allocation of funds for developmental expenditure over the said region”, and “equitable opportunities and facilities” for people of this region in government jobs and education. A proportion of seats in educational institutions and state government jobs in Hyderabad-Karnataka can be reserved for individuals from that region .

In the colonial era, the British diverted abundant forest wealth of the nation to meet their economic needs. While procedure for settlement of rights was provided under statutes such as the Indian Forest Act, 1927, these were hardly followed. As a result, tribal and forest-dwelling communities, who had been living within the forests in harmony with the environment and the ecosystem, continued to live inside the forests in tenurial insecurity, a situation which continued even after independence as they were marginalised. The symbiotic relationship between forests and forest-dwelling communities found recognition in the National Forest Policy, 1988. The policy called for the need to associate tribal people in the protection, regeneration and development of forests. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood. On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of lakhs belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) categories across 16 States, whose claim as forest-dwellers has been rejected under the Forest Rights Act. A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee ordered the Chief Secretaries of many of these States to evict those whose claims were finally rejected. The court directed that the eviction be carried out by July 24, 2019.The Bench, in a 19-page order, cautioned the States that if the evictions were not carried out within the stipulated time, “the matter would be viewed seriously.” The Chief Secretaries of the States were asked to file affidavits by July 12, explaining why the rejected claimants had not been evicted. It ordered the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to make a satellite survey and place on record the “encroachment positions.” he February 13 order is based on affidavits filed by the States. The affidavits, however, do not make clear whether the due process of law was observed before the claims were rejected. The Centre argues that the rejection of claims is particularly high in the States hit by Left-Wing Extremism, where tribal population is high. The forest land claims of these tribes and forest-dwellers are mostly rejected by the States. Being poor and illiterate, living in remote areas, they do not know the appropriate procedure for filing claims. The gram sabhas, which initiate the verification of their claims, are low on awareness of how to deal with them. The rejection orders are not even communicated to these communities. On February 28, the court stayed its order, though it said “the mighty and the undeserving” who have encroached on forest land would be shown no mercy. It has decided to examine whether due process was followed by the gram sabhas and the States under the Forest Rights Act before the claims were rejected .