The Himachal Van Adhikar Manch, a state level forum of social organisations advocating for implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 have petitioned the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh and the High Powered Committee reviewing status of encroachment cases. The memorandum submitted highlights that the Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian Parliament in 2006 is the one and only option for protecting the interests of small farmers with ‘occupations’ of less than 10 bighas on forest land. This memorandum comes at a time when the State Government is looking at the possibility of legal options to provide relief to land occupiers facing the threat of eviction because of the Shimla High Court Order of April 2015.
Failure of State Policies on Regularisation due to Central laws
The memorandum points out that “Regularisation of any occupation of forest land became impossible through State policies (like Nautor) or any State Legislations because these could be over-ridden by the provisions of central legislations like the Forest Conservation Act 1980, the Wildlife Act 1972 and other orders of the Supreme Court which make diversion of forest land for non forest uses impossible. It was precisely because of these hindrances that the earlier attempts at regularization, like the one in 2002 have failed”. Infact the evictions from forest lands had been a problem in various states and it was the inability of State governments to provide relief to the forest dwelling communities across the country (including Himachal Pradesh) that a new Act, titled the “The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act” was passed by the United Progressive Alliance in 2006. The key provision and objective of this Act is to recognise the claims, both individual and common, of local communities on the forest lands that they depend on for their livelihoods. This Act was historical because it provided the much needed relief to those who had years of “occupations” on forest land for their day to day survival.
FRA implementation in other States
In the country many state governments have implemented this Act and issued both individual and community titles under FRA 2006. As per the information collected till 31st July, 2016, 41,82,806 claims (40,72,241 individual and 1,10,565 community claims) have been filed and 16,84,627 titles (16,40,160 individual and 44,467 community claims) have been distributed.
State wise data
Even in a developed state like Kerala where forest area is 11309.74 sq kms, less than Himachal, there also 24,599 individual titles have been issued for 33,018.12 acres of forest land. In Himachal which has a huge population of approximately more than 1.5 lakhs families of Gaddis and Gujjars, medicinal plant collectors who are directly dependent on forest land for livelihood and 1.65 lakh families who have applied under 2002 encroachment regularisation policy of Himachal Government are possible beneficiary under this Act, there is a huge scope for the implementation of the Act. It is unfortunate that Himachal has lagged behind in the implementation of this Act so far.“Anyway the government has implemented section 3(2) of the FRA to allow village developmental activities. A clear instruction from the Chief Minister is required to implement section 3(1) which recognises the individual and community rights, as he had done for section 3(2). This will push the implementation of the Act” added Askshay Jasrotia, convenor of Himachal Van Adhikar Manch.