The forest department’s exclusive control over Indian forests may end with the government’s acceptance of a key recommendation of a committee to allow people participation in forest management.
The National Committee on Forest Rights Act (FRA), headed by National Advisory Council member NC Saxena, has recommended a three-tier forest management system where some part of the forest will be under exclusive control of people living there— some under joint community-government management and remaining with the forest departments.
“No longer we can continue with the government-controlled forest management,” environment minister Jairam Ramesh said after Saxena’s presentation on major findings of the report. “FRA is an opportunity to bring out change in the forest government structure”.
The new structure is being considered following a finding of the 20-member committee constituted in April 2009, that key clause of the act on ensuring community rights has not been implemented.
Of the total 4 crore hectares of forestland, community rights have been granted in only 20,000 hectares. “Except in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, people’s participation in forests is limited,” Saxena said.
This has happened primarily as state governments have failed to understand what community rights mean. As per FRA, community rights means allowing access to minor forest produce to those who have been living on forestland for three generations prior to 2005.
The biggest stumbling blocking in granting community rights has been Indian Forest Act of 1927, which gave powers to the forest department to book anyone accessing forest produce.
As a first step to grant community rights, the environment ministry will introduce an amendment to Indian Forest Act of 1927 to allow forest dwellers and tribals to exercise rights over minor forest produce and resources.