Govt relax norms; lakhs of tribals can now claim forest land
Thousands of tribals living in forests across will now be able to claim land as Tribal Affairs ministry on Thursday relaxed norms in a bid to thwart attempt of forest department official to reject the claims.
As per the new rules notified under the Forest Rights Act, the ministry had allowed tribal and forest dwellers to submit all available evidence to claim land in forest areas. The forest department officials had rejected lakhs of land claims in states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra on the ground that their names were not in their official records.
Tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo said the new rules governing the Forest Rights Act (FRA) for empowering Scheduled Tribes have been finalised and will be put before Parliament in the first week of Monsoon session, which begins from August 7. “We have introduced 60 changes in the present act after taking into account various factors," he said.
Another notable change is making the tribal and forest dwellers control the minor forest produce, which till now have been under the control of the state governments. The new rules directs the state governments to allow those living in forests to collect the minor forest produce (which is everything except timber) and stipulate a minimum support price to buy the produce from them.
Deo said the MSP for minor forest produce will be declared by January next year.
For the first time, seven villages in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra were allowed to collect and sell bamboo resulting in earning of Rs 7.5 crore. But, the scheme was not extended to other villages because the forest department refused to permit to transport the bamboo harvested. The forest dwellers will be able to easily access minor forest produce if the states accept the new rules.
The new rules also provide for community based forest management, a right which was taken away from them by the British through Indian Forest Act of 1927. The rules describe gram sabhas (village body) as the supreme authority on management of local forests “without any conditions”.
It also makes it mandatory for project proponents to seek approval of the gram sabha for any developmental projects. “No forest land could be taken over for projects unless the rights of the forest dwellers have been recognized and gram sabha approves the project,” a tribal affairs ministry official said.