The Lok Sabha on Friday unanimously passed the contentious Bill to confer land and produce rights on forest dwellers, which has been hanging fire for the past two years. The Bill was earlier referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee. The majority of its recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill.
The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2006 received overwhelming support from the House. Members were unanimous in demanding withdrawal of cases registered against forest dwellers at the behest of forest officials and conferring land rights on them.
After the six-hour debate in which 34 MPs participated, Tribal Affairs Minister K.R. Kyndiah said the legislation was historic as it would restore the basic rights of tribals and other forest dwellers. At the same time, he said traditions, culture and customs of tribals should be allowed to grow.
Dispelling the fear that the Bill would lead to destruction of forests, Kyndiah said forest-dwellers were the most effective conservationists and the most potent weapon for the “revival and survival” of the forest eco-system. “I have the records to prove that forests are flourishing where there are tribals,” he said.
Reacting to objections by some Northeast MPs, he said the government was open to further discussion on the issue.
Earlier, initiating the debate, BJP’s Jual Oram criticised the government for not circulating the proposed amendments in time for study.
He suggested that the Act be incorporated in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution as a safeguard against future intervention. However, an amendment moved by him suggesting protection of “symbolic” hunting rights of tribals was negated by the House. Customs and traditions do not need such protections, Kyndiah responded.
Madhusudan Mistry of the Congress urged the government to include bamboo, sand and stone under minor forest produce while allowing their sale in the market.
The law: an overview
•The law is expected to cover nearly 10 lakh tribals and traditional forest-dwellers living in 87 districts of the country.
•Only those residing in forests for 25 years or more or for three generations prior to December 13 2005 will be eligible to claim the land.
•The bill has imposed a ceiling of four acres per unit, which can be claimed. Only those plots, which are under one’s occupation, can be claimed under the new law.
•The total land that dwellers are estimated to get is just two per cent of the forest land. But, the government has retained the power to acquire forest land with tribals for the construction of schools, hospitals and to provide other basic facilities.
•The process of conferring the rights has been made more stringent than those in the original bill, with the district-level committee being the final authority.