Mizoram Revokes Forest Rights Act

  • On November 19th, 2019, the Mizoram government passed a resolution revoking the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA).
  • Mizoram had passed a resolution implementing the Act on October 29, 2009. The Act has been applicable in the state since December 21, 2009.
  • Using the special provisions guaranteed under the Article 371(G), the state government passed the resolution revoking the FRA.

Reason for Revoking

  • The Mizoram Government alleged that FRA directly encroached on the special status the state enjoyed under Article 371 (G) of the Constitution of India.
  • Another reason given by state government is regarding the stoppage of funds by the Union government since 2014-15 for the implementation FRA. Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs, in its Project Appraisal Committee meeting held on April 8, 2015, declined the state’s proposal for Rs 10 lakh for the implementation of the Act in the state, following which the state never got funds for the same from the Centre.

Article 371 (G)

  • Article 371(G) of the Constitution gives special status to the state of Mizoram and provides that the Parliament cannot decide on the matters of religious and social practices of the Mizos, civil and criminal law of the land, land ownership transfer, and customary law procedure without the consent of the state assembly.
  • The provision came into effect in 1986 following the signing of the historic Mizo Accord between the Centre and the erstwhile underground Mizo National Front (MNF).
  • It grant special provision with respect to the State of Mizoram Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,

(a) No Act of President in respect of

  1. religious or social practices of the Mizos
  2. Mizo customary law and procedure
  3. administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law
  4. ownership and transfer of land, shall apply to the State of Mizoram unless the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mizoram by a resolution so decides: Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to any Central Act in force in the union territory of Mizoram immediately before the commencement of the Constitution (Fifty third Amendment) Act, 1986;

(b) the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mizoram shall consist of not less than forty members”

  • According to the 2017 State of Forest Report by the Forest Survey of India, around 20 percent of the total 5,641 square kilometres of the forest land in Mizoram is “Unclassed Forest” which is under Autonomous District Councils.(Note: A big chunk of forests in the state is owned by the Lai, Mara and Chakma Autonomous District Councils).
  • A significant part of forests that are traditionally controlled and managed by the community fall within this category of unclassed forest.
  • The area of unclassed forest is lowest in Mizoram, among all North Eastern states which meanthat the potential for FRA implementation is also the highest in the state.

Impact

  • With a major portion of the geographical area of Mizoram state  under forest cover, and communities having ownership on those lands, revoking FRA can be seen as a means to keep the forest land with the forest departments for later diversion.

Forest Rights Act, 2006

  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood.
  • The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.

Eligibility Criteria for FRA

  • Any person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe can claim individual rights to live in and cultivate up to four hectares provided ,he occupied it and was dependent on it as of December 13, 2005. Non-tribals, in addition to this requirement, will have to prove their family’s residence in the vicinity of the forest land for 75 years prior to December 2005.
  • The Gram Sabha is the concerned authority to initiate the processor determining the nature and extent of individual orcommunity forest rights or both that may be given to theforest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forestdwellers within the local limits of its jurisdiction under the Act.

Special Rights Provided under FRA

Individual Forest Rights

  • Any person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe can claim rights to live in and cultivate up to four hectares provided she has occupied it and was depended on it as of December 13, 2005.
  • In case of a non-tribal, in addition to this requirement, she will have to prove her family’s residence in the vicinity of the forest land for 75 years prior to December 2005.

Community Forest Rights

  • The Act recognises the rights of a gram sabha over forest land within the traditional boundaries of a village or seasonal use of landscape in case of pastoral communities. This allows the villagers to own and collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce besides timber and the right to use grazing land and water bodies, among others.

Community Forest Resource Rights

  • The most significant part of the Act, this rights  give the gram sabha the right to protect and manage their forest. No project can come up in the forest nor can any conservation plan for the forest be carried out without the approval of the gram sabha.

Process of Recognition of Rights

  • On receipt of intimation from the Forest Rights Committee, the officials of the Forest and Revenue departments shall remain present during the verification of the claims and the verification ofevidences on the site and shall sign the proceedings with their designation, date and comments.
  • If any objections are made by the Forest or Revenue departments at a later date to a claimapproved by the Gram Sabha, for the reason that their representatives were absent during fieldverification, the claim shall be remanded to the Gram Sabha for re-verification by the committeewhere objection has been raised and if the representatives again fail to attend the verificationprocess the Gram Sabha’s decision on the field verification shall be final.

Significance of FRA

The Act secures -

  • Community Rights or rights over common property resources of the communities in addition to their individual rights
  • Rights in and over disputed land Rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, un-surveyed villages and other villages in forests into revenue villages
  • Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which the communities have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.
  • Right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity
  • Rights of displaced communities
  • Rights over developmental activities

 

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, November, 2019