Thursday, December 9, 2021

Government aims to empower forest dwellers in the management of forest resources

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change have jointly decided to give more power to the tribal communities in managing the forest resources. A joint communication in this regard was signed by both the Ministries on Tuesday, July 6.

What are forest resources?

Forests are not only home to trees and animals. They are also a vital source of resources. They give clean air, timber, fuel, wood, fruits, food, fodder, and more. These are known as forest resources upon which many depend for livelihood and survival.

Forests provide resources, which makes its conservation and protection further important. It is also because of these resources, that forests are exploited.

How forests provide livelihood?

For centuries, people have been settling in and around forest regions. In India, while the forest-based industries have relied on the commercially valuable wood, the forest dwellers, a majority of whom are Scheduled Tribes, have depended on the minor forest produce for their subsistence.

Tribals who live in the countryside mainly rely on agriculture. However, tribes like the semi-nomadic, the jhum cultivators, and the settled cultivators live completely on the forest produce. For these tribes, the forest is the only source of subsistence. From collecting food from the forest to using timber or bamboos for the construction of homes etc, livelihood for tribal is highly dependent on the forest. They provide them employment opportunities through harvesting forests, raising plantations, and collecting and processing forest products.

Further, non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is an important source of livelihood for many tribal communities and villagers living in the proximity of forests. These include fruits and nuts, vegetables, medicinal plants, resins, essences, and a range of barks and fibres such as bamboo, rattans, palms, and grasses. For eg, Savita collects dry woods and mushrooms from the nearby forest and sells them for a livelihood. Similarly, Chanda makes bags and other items from bamboo, which she sells in the market for a nominal charge. Moreover, the tribal population are not only dependent on forests for their survival and but also help in the maintenance and protection of the forests.

Forests in India

The forests in India consist of evergreen forests, deciduous forests, dry forests, alpine forests, riparian forests, and tidal forests. Mangrove ecosystems are unique, rich in biodiversity, and provide numerous ecological services. Further, wetlands within forest areas form important ecosystems and add richness to the biodiversity in forest areas, both of faunal and floral species.

In the last six years, India has increased its forest and tree cover by 15,000 square km. According to Union Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, the total forest and tree cover of the country is 80.73 million hectares which is 24.56% of the geographical area of the country (Dec, 2019).

As compared to the assessment of 2017, there has been an increase of 5,188 sq. km in the total forest and tree cover of the country. Out of this, the increase in the forest cover has been observed as 3,976 sq km and that in tree cover is 1,212 sq. km. Further, Karnataka (1,025 sq. km) followed by Andhra Pradesh (990 sq km) and Kerala (823 sq km) are the top three states that have registered an increase in forest cover.

Area-wise Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Maharashtra. In terms of forest cover as a percentage of total geographical area, the top five States are Mizoram (85.41%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.63%), Meghalaya (76.33%), Manipur (75.46%), and Nagaland (75.31%).

Forest Laws in India

In India, forests are the responsibility of both the Central and the State governments. The various laws governing forests rights and rules in the country are Indian Forest Act 1927. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was introduced to consolidate the law relating to forests, the transit of forest produce, and the duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
Other laws include Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Forest (Conservation) Rules, 1981, National Forest Policy, 1988, National Mission for Green India, National Afforestation Program, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

Historical Background

Before the arrival of the Britishers in India, tribal people took care of and protected the forests. The Britishers used forest produce for revenue and supply of timber for industrial purposes. In 1865, the first Forest Act was introduced to facilitate the acquisition of the Indian forest areas to supply timber for railways and to establish the claim of the state on the forest land. However, it did not have any provisions to protect the existing rights of the people living in the forests.

The new Forest Act, 1878 recognized the rights of the nomads and forest dwellers in various areas. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was introduced to make forest laws more effective and to improve the forest Act, 1875. After independence, the National Forest Policy, 1988 recognized the rights of the forest dwellers, sought ways to provide them with employment, and engage them in the management and protection of the forest. It also had provisions to protect, improve and enhance the production of minor forest produce that provided sustenance to tribal populations and other communities residing in and around the forests.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 gave new meaning and recognition to the Scheduled Tribes. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change further empower the tribe to manage the forest resources. Earlier the budget allocated was Rs 3,800 crores, which has now been increased to Rs 7,200 crores. Earlier only 10 Minor Forest Produce used to get MSP. Today, it has increased to 86.

Forest Rights Act

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is also known as the Forest Rights Act. The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the rights of the forest-dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation, and other socio-cultural needs. The Act provides certain individual rights such as Rights of Self-cultivation and Habitation and community rights such as grazing, fishing, and access to water bodies in forests, community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge etc.

The Act empowers the forest dwellers to access and use the forest resources in the manner that they were traditionally accustomed to, to protect, conserve and manage forests, protect forest dwellers from unlawful evictions, and also provides for basic development facilities for the community of forest dwellers to access facilities of education, health, nutrition, infrastructure, etc.

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