Updated: July 6, 2021 11:01:33 pm
A “Joint Communication” was signed by Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) R P Gupta and Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) Anil Kumar Jha on Tuesday in the presence of Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda to secure the rights of traditional forest dwellers and proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
The communication has been addressed to all Chief Secretaries of States and Union Territories specifically looking at harnessing the potential for livelihood improvement of the Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) as well as community participation in forest conservation.
Speaking on the occasion, Munda said tribals and other forest dwellers can contribute significantly in efforts towards climate change through preservation of biodiversity, environmental conservation and enhancing forest cover.
“Forest dwellers are dependent on forests, not only for their livelihood but their traditions are also intertwined with forests. When there is little rain, they worship the van devta (forest god) as well as when there is too much rain. In the Chota Nagpur region, where there aren’t very many areas designated as forests, you will find a healthy forest cover.
That is because the forest dweller has traditionally protected forests. And yet, when there has been a tug-of-war in the past between the rights of the forest dwellers and the conservation of forest, between forest departments and these dwellers. The aim now is to look at how we can move forward where the interests of both forest and its dwellers are protected. I believe this can happen through community forest protection,’’ said Munda.
The first meeting between the two ministries regarding the issue was held in August 2020.
Javadekar said the joint communication indicates a paradigm shift from one of working in silos to achieving convergence between Ministries and Departments.
“Government of India is committed to the development of Tribes and Tribal areas. The number of sanctioned Ekalavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) has gone up to 620. Similarly, the launch of Van Dhan Yojana and increasing the number of Minor Forest Products (MFP) in the bracket of Minimum Support Price (MSP) from 10 to 86 in the last few years has supported tribes immensely in improving their incomes and livelihood prospects,” said Javadekar, adding that the villagers located within forests have community resource management rights.
“Forest area planning should be done in consultation with gram sabhas and they should be an integral part of afforestation endeavours,” he added.
“The forest dwelling scheduled tribes (FDSTs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) inhabiting forests for generations were in occupation of the forest land for centuries. Forests are the source of their livelihood, identity, customs and traditions. However, their rights on their ancestral lands and their habitats had not been adequately recognized despite them being integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest eco-system. The traditional rights and interests of FDSTs and OTFDs on forest lands were left unrecognized and unrecorded during consolidation of State forests in the past,’’ says the joint communication.
This lack of recognition, says the communication, had left tribal and forest dwelling communities across the country insecure of tenure and fear of eviction from lands that they have historically occupied, a “historical injustice that needed correction” says the communique.
The government had enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act and recognizes the right to livelihood and occupation within the forest of these communities.
“There are 13 types of rights that have been elucidated in the Act. But despite nearly 13 years of the Act coming into place, only one of these rights — distribution of pattas to forest dwellers — has actually been implemented. We need to look at enhancing livelihood opportunities and food security,” said DG Forests Sanjay Kumar.
Forest Departments of state governments have been directed to carry out verification of claims for forest rights, mapping of forest lands involved and provision of necessary evidence as required, authentication of records, joint field inspections, awareness generation etc.
State forest departments have also been asked to undertake projects for value chain addition including capacity building of primary collectors, new harvesting methods, storage, processing and marketing of NTFP under schemes implemented by MoTA as well as designate a nodal agency for specific non-timber forest products as supply chain platforms in collaboration with TRIFED, NSTFDC, Ministry of Ayush, MFP Federations, TDCCs, Van Dhan Kendras etc.
State tribal welfare departments along with forest departments are also to work out strategies to extend MGNREGS and NRLM to forest dwellers as well as initiate skill development programs and give impetus to agro-forestry and horticulture projects.
The event was attended by more than 300 participants including State Government officials such as Principal Secretaries/Secretaries in the Forest, Revenue and Tribal Welfare Departments, Principal Chief Conservators of Forest, Commissioners/Directors of Tribal Welfare Departments, Directors of Tribal Research Institutes (TRIs) as well as members from NGOs and partnering organizations.
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