Rights of forest dwellers

Forest dwellers, who virtually have peculiar rights emanating from hundreds of years of their living in and sustenance from forests in a way that they form a constituents of forests itself, had gradually been denied to them for decades together as a result of colonial rules being in force .To address various issues in respect of forest dwellers and known communities attached to forests, Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to them across the country. Since due to the operation of Article 370 , this Act of Parliament was not applicable and as such not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir for the last 14 years , it became applicable to J&K only after October 31, 2019. In other words, rights of such communities and dwellers started getting recognised for the first time in the UT , a matter of great satisfaction and relief to such people.
It may be noted that these people, quite industrious and self sustaining, have been not only living in forests under individual or common occupation but have been indulging in self cultivation for livelihood and protecting forests and going in for (a)forestation activities too on a voluntary basis and preventing illegal forest cutting or timber theft. Having said this, it is highly desirable that a proper review and follow up on periodic basis be undertaken to assess the levels of implementation process of the provisions of the Act of 2006 in the UT. In this connection, the Chief Secretary chaired a meeting on November 18 to review the implementation process. However, we learn that some work in this regard has already been started by the departments of Tribal Affairs , Forest , Ecology and Environment but only in October this year. A proper foolproof and a comprehensive exercise needs to be started to assess the nature and extent of rights of the concerned dwellers at villages levels . For this, it is a step in right direction that Forest Rights Committees are entrusted to go into the issue to determine the structure of such rights , an exercise to be completed by January 15, next year. A process , thus started at base point- villages and the requisite data collected, can afterwards go to sub-divisional and District levels so as to complete the entire exercise by the start of March 2021.
Since the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are going to be benefitted and thus saved from recurring embarrassments and even harassments from some authorities for several issues, off and on, shall become a thing of the past as these dwellers shall now be provided with the rights over forest land for specific purposes like habitation, self cultivation, livelihood, ownership, rights to access, collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce and the like. Undoubtedly, all these activities were going on otherwise also but those, who were not basically entitled to the same as being no ”original” and ”natural” forest dwellers or were feigning as forest dwellers purely for commercial gains and exploiting the resources of forests, shall stand identified and declared as non dwellers automatically. The rights under the said Act, it may be noted, shall of course, be heritable but not alienable or transferable hence no commerce or gains from sale and purchase of such forest land shall be allowed .
Since these communities cannot live in primitive type of isolation and shall , therefore, be needing schools, health centres, hospitals, Panchayat Ghars , minor water schemes, rain water harvesting structures, vocational training centres, roads etc , as such forest land up to one hectare could be allocated on the recommendation of respective Gram Sabha. However, while exercising their rights , now legally , these forest dwellers and communities are enjoined upon to save the wild life for whom habitat opportunities are continuously shrinking , forests have to be saved, bio-diversity, catchment areas , water sources and bodies, and other sensitive areas which make these forests highly vulnerable must be looked after and protected by them which in turn are guarantees of their continued and assured reliability and dependence on the multifarious utilities of forests for them. They should remember that the golden goose which lays golden egg each day needs to be protected and not killed to get ”all the eggs” at one go. That would be suicidal.