MUMBAI, Dec 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A landmark
Indian forest rights law passed 10 years ago with the aim of
protecting indigenous people has been crippled by conflicting
legislation, and a lack of political will and funds to ensure
its implementation, according to a report.
More than a fifth of India's population were expected to
benefit from the 2006 Forest Rights Act covering vast areas of
forest land roughly the size of Germany.
Instead, only 3 percent of potential community forest rights
have been granted so far, and conflicts between states and
indigenous communities have been rising as demand for land
increases in the world's fastest growing major economy.
"(The law) has the potential to conserve forests and
biodiversity (and) improve local livelihoods," Neema Pathak
Broome, a researcher with rights group Kalpavriksh, said in the
report released Tuesday by a citizens' advocacy group.
"Unfortunately, due to a lack of political will and
intentional efforts to undermine the law, this vast potential
for democratic forest governance remains unrealised."
In the decade since the law was passed, the federal
government and several states have introduced other laws that
sometimes run counter to the Forest Rights Act.
For example, a new federal law introduced in July that
compensates for deforestation ignores the rights of indigenous
people and the requirement for consent of the village council
for use of forest land, activists said.
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which is charged with
implementing the 2006 law, is "understaffed and
under-resourced", while state forest departments are largely
"hostile, at best apathetic" in implementing it, the report
The western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, the eastern
state of Odisha and the southern state of Kerala lead in
recognising community and individual forest rights, the report
States including Assam, Bihar, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and
Uttarakhand have lagged behind, it said.
As well as conserving forests, the law has the potential to
secure livelihoods, promote women's rights and contain conflicts
in areas hit by violent extremism, it said.
The government needs to mobilise political support and funds
for its implementation and strengthen the Tribal Affairs
Ministry and state agencies, the report said.
"The biggest stumbling block is that there's very limited
understanding of the Forest Rights Act, even within the
government," Tushar Dash, from advocacy group Vasundhara, told
the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They believe granting forest rights obstructs development,
and are instead giving forest lands for industrial use. But it's
been established that protecting forest rights encourages
development and helps conservation efforts far more."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Ros Russell;
@rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson
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