Sunday, September 11, 2016

State Control Versus Tribal Dwellers Control over Forest Resources in India

Forest Rights Act, 2006 and PESA, 1996 unequivocally recognize the rights of forest dwellers and Gram Sabha over the management of forest and mineral resources. In light of recent rules formulated by Maharashtra government, diluting the rights of forest dwellers and enhancing rights of forest department over forest management, the issue gains significance. 

Arguments in favour of state control over forest management are

a) Erstwhile Planning Commission in a report pegged the value of forest produce trade at 50,000cr. This provides the scope for revenue augmentation of state which can be used for social expenditure 

b) Indian forest produce includes many plants with medicinal benefits which can be utilized for AYUSH etc 

c) Indigenous population might not have the technical know how to protect and trade certain resources 

There are also several compelling arguments in favour of tribals and forest dwellers retaining control 

a) Before FRA and PESA, trade in such produce were done through contractors, traders etc, and the benefits hardly trickled down to the indigenous population 

b) Control over forest resources forms an important part of livelihood of these people. Since the British times, their rights over forest produce has been denied to them. Nehru in his policy of Tribal Panchsheel talked about giving control over forest and mineral rights to these people to ensure their development

c) Forests form an important part in the way of life of these people and unsustainable exploitation of forests by private contractors can wreak havoc on their way of life

d) In an era of decentralization, it is difficult to make an argument against Gram Sabha control over the forest produce particularly in Schedule 5 and Schedule 6 areas

e) SC in Samantha and Vedanta judgement has upheld the rights of Adivasis over forest and mineral produce and their consent in exploitation of such resources is mandatory

f) Globally the practice in developing countries is to recognize the rights of indigenous population over forest produce FRA and PESA were progressive legislations recognizing the rights of tribals. State needs to work in consonance with Gram Sabha to ensure that these people are not exploited against and their rights are protected.

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