Controversy on the Forest Dwellers Act, 2006.

Author: Mr. Abhishek Naharia, RGNUL, Patiala

Resolving the Controversy on the Forest Dwellers Act, 2006.

What is the Act all about?

The Forest Dwellers Act, also known as the Tribal Land Act holds a special place in the eyes of law as this Act was brought in to recognize the rights of a major chunk of the population of the forest dwellers of India. The Act lays down provisions regarding what would be the rights of the forest dwellers in their area and how would these forest dwellers be classified. The Act came into being long after the forest land was denied to the forest dwellers. It was after the enforcement of this Act that the forest land was allotted to such dwellers. Earlier, Indian laws were sharp and precise on the point that the land in the forest would either be considered as a reserved forest area or a “protected area”. This was vided the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. 

What Rights were given to forest dwellers under the Act?

All kinds of rights including the right to ownership, the right to have access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce which has been collected within or outside village boundaries and the right to possess other entitlements within the forest. The right to hold and live in the forest and do whatever occupation that one wished for the purpose of the earning of livelihood was one of the significant rights given to the dwellers. The Rights were broadly classified into 4 categories. The title rights, the use of rights, the relief and development rights and the forest management rights.

What debate did it turn in?

On 13th February 2019; a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Arun Mishra issued an extremely important order in Writ Petition No. 109 of 2008 to ensure the protection of forests, which have been severely affected due to the in-eligible rights that were being claimed by the dwellers. That the Petitioners herein were the Nature Conservation Society and the Tiger Research Conservation Trust. They had filed the petition against the bogus claims of the forest dwellers who were just occupying bigger areas day after day. 

What’s the Reality?

That after the enactment of the Forest dwellers Act in 2006, a total of 42 lakh claims have been made to date. Apart from the loss of forests, granting such wide-ranging rights in such a scattered and haphazard manner has been causing serious implications to the habitat that exists in the forest land. Based on the due process established by law, as of today near about 19,34,345 claims stand rejected, and the justified reasons in the claim lead us to a conclusion that there are many claims that are being filed just to extract the area out of the total area of the forest land available. This undue practice of taking the law for granted should be stopped in time, and that is what is the claim of the Petitioner. 

Supreme Court’s Views.

The order of the Supreme Court regarding this issue was that it directed the State Secretary to ensure that where the rejection orders have been passed, the eviction will be carried out on or before the next date of hearing. In case the eviction is not carried out, the Court would have to seriously delve upon the matter. Further, it was said that the verification process had been pending and that the concerned State shall do the needful within 4 months. Now, as it had been already seen by the Forest Survey of India that the encroachment is there on the land pertaining to the Government of India, the Court observed that the Forest Survey of India must make a Satellite Survey and place on record the encroachment positions and also state the positions after the eviction as far as possible.