Granting Tribal and Forest Rights to the Tribes of J&K

On the occasion of the inauguration of 'National Tribal Carnival' on October 25th, 2016, in New Delhi, the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi exclusively praised the tribes of India which marked intense struggle throughout their life.
Granting Tribal and Forest Rights to the Tribes of J&K
GK Photo

On the occasion of the inauguration of 'National Tribal Carnival' on  October 25th, 2016, in New Delhi,  the  Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi  exclusively praised  the tribes of India  which marked intense struggle  throughout their life. He declared them as ideals of community living, and of living cheerfully despite many troubles.

Prime Minister   also complimented the nomadic communities for their role in the conservation of forests in India. He said, if we have to protect Jungles we should utilize tribes. He further said that the inheritance of tribes is largely based on forests as they are the real custodian of forests.

Prime Minister stated that the livelihood of tribes is largely based on forest, though they have no written record of their land dwell in and due to this they are facing difficulties. He said  his government is committed to give rights to tribes and center with the help of State Governments  allotted  lands / Pattas of forest to Tribes for the reason that they  must get due privileges. He said nobody will be allowed to dislocate the tribes from their inherited lands, owned by them traditionally. He said my government will take serious steps in this direction. Tribes should get ownership on forest lands, as the Jungles are a part of their life and livelihood which could not be separated at all.

Forest (tribal ) Right Act- 2006

On 18th December 2006, the Indian parliament passed a legislation whereby the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers were equipped with the rights on forest land and other resources. It was an initiative of Govt of India to redress the historical injustice committed against tribes who are the main forest dwellers, while including provisions for making conservation more effective and more transparent.

Through this legislation, which came into force on 31 December 2007, following rights have been granted to the tribes of India:  

1.     Ownership and Title rights to land,   subject to a maximum of 4 hectares, that is being farmed by tribal or forest dwellers as on 13 December 2005.

2.     Use rights – Rights were granted to tribes to grazing areas, to pastoralist route to minor forest produce (also including ownership),

3.     Rehabilitation: to rehabilitate in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement Relief and development rights were granted for basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.

4.     Protection Rights and Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.

The eligibility for 'Forest Rights' to get rights is confined to those who "primarily reside in forests or who depend on forests and forest land for their livelihood. Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.

Types of Rights  granted to Indian Tribes

1.     Right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce.

2.     Right to hold and live in the forest land for self-cultivation for livelihood by Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers

3.     For settled or transhumant community rights of uses of entitlements such as fish and other products of water bodies, grazing and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities;

4.     Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.

5.     Right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity.

6.     Traditional and customarily right enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers.

7.     Community rights such as nistar, by whatever name called, including those used in erstwhile Princely states, Zamindari or such intermediary regimes

8.     Other rights as may be granted by the State.  

J&K awaits extension of Forest Act 

Owing to its special position, under article 370 of Constitution of India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has not extended the Forest Right Act 2006 till date, though it was largely implemented in all most all the states of India.  

In absence of forest rights, around 12   Scheduled Tribe communities are facing a lot of hardship including evocation from land by Forest department from time to time. They are demanding extension of 'Forest Rights Act-2006' enacted by Indian Parliament to the J&K so that they can also have rights on forest lands as are constitutionally available to other STs across the country.

Fighting for their rights, the members of different tribal communities have been raising   the issue at different forms. They are pleading that the government should follow the other state's model to settle nomads especially to rehabilitate   the nomadic Gujjars-Bakarwals' who are the main forest dweller community of the state.

Presently nomadic tribes of Jammu and Kashmir state have no rights on the forest lands as no identical law to Forest Right Act is enforced in the state. The 80% of tribal population comprises of   Gujjars and Bakerwals which constitute 20% of total 125 Lakhs population of the State. They rear sheep , goats, buffalos, camels and other animals and    a sizeable chunk among them is still landless, shelter less and deserves dwelling rights on forest lands which they are using as traditional inhabitants since centuries together.

No hurdles to extend Rights

Apparently there are no hurdles seen in the way of extension of Forest Rights   Act-2006 to J&K. The PDP – BJP govt. in J&K  which was the first to establish Tribal Ministry in the state and were seen keen to develop marginalised communities. Further, the J&K's Forest Policy 2010 also provided "concessions" to nomadic graziers,  though  are not enough for tribal communities.  

The forests are the home of nomadic tribes. Lakhs of nomadic Gujjars-Bakarwals in J&K still reside in forest during migration and their economy is completely based on forest products, lands.

In past , the tribes especially Gujjars were  protecting forests against mafias, land grabbers but as per laws available, protection of forests by persons other then officials is illegal in Jammu and Kashmir which is unjust and against tribal rights. They must be declared as a forest protector by settling them properly and lawfully.

Rehabilitation of nomads  through  Forest Rights

12 ST communities of State are expecting a positive outcome of the committee constituted by Governor of J&K N N Vohra in March 2016 during 'Governor  Rule'  under the supervision of Chief Secretary B. R. Sharma who was asked to prepare a draft plan to re-locate and re-rehabilitate nomadic tribes who move from place to place in the state.

The order was issued after one nomadic Gujjar was   killed during evocation of land by Forest department in Samba District of Jammu province. To rehabilitate the tribes , other states  of India have developed "Forest villages" for tribal and nomadic groups for rehabilitations of STs with the help of Union Tribal Affairs Ministry.

Since, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is enjoying special status  in Constitution of India and is empowered to either extend the Forest Right  Act -2006 to J&K or  come up with a legislation of its own thereby granting rights to tribes of J&K on the land occupied by them since centuries.

(Dr. Javaid Rahi is a tribal activist)  

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