‘I speak for the trees for they have no tongues…!’
- Dr. Seuss (American Author)
Forestry in India is a significant rural industry and a major environmental resource. India is one of the ten most forest-rich countries of the world. Together, India and these other 9 countries account for 67 percent of total forest area of the world. India's forest cover grew at 0.20% annually over 1990–2000, and has grown at the rate of 0.7% per year over 2000–2010, after decades where forest degradation was a matter of serious concern.
As of 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates India's forest cover to be about 68 million hectares, or 22% of the country's area.
The 2013 Forest Survey of India states its forest cover increased to 69.8 million hectares by 2012, per satellite measurements; this represents an increase of 5,871 square kilometers of forest cover in 2 years.
However, the gains were primarily in northern, central and southern Indian states, while northeastern states witnessed a net loss in forest cover over 2010 to 2012. In 2018, the total forest and tree cover in India increased to 24.39% or 8,02,088 km2. It increased further to 24.56 percent or 807,276 square kilometres in 2019.
Forestry in India is more than just about wood and fuel. India has a thriving non-wood forest products industry, which produces latex, gums, resins, essential oils, flavors, fragrances and aroma chemicals, incense sticks, handicrafts, thatching materials and medicinal plants.
About 60% of non-wood forest products production is consumed locally. About 50% of the total revenue from the forestry industry in India is in non-wood forest products category.
TYPES OF FORESTS
Under Indian Forest Act, 1927, forests are divided into three kinds:
RESERVED FORESTS (RF) & PROTECTED FORESTS (PF):
At present, reserved forests and protected forests differ in one important way:
In reserved forests, Rights to all activities like hunting, grazing, etc. in forests are banned unless specific orders are issued otherwise.
In protected areas, rights to activities like hunting and grazing are sometimes given to communities living on the fringes of the forest, who sustain their livelihood partially or wholly from forest resources or products.
Protected forests are of two kinds - demarcated protected forests and undemarcated protected forests, based on whether the limits of the forest have been specified by a formal notification.
Typically, protected forests are often upgraded to the status of wildlife sanctuaries, which is turn may be upgraded to the status of national parks, with each category receiving a higher degree of protection and government funding.
The full details regarding the ‘reserved forests’ and protected forests’ are given in chapter III and IV of the said act.
The main difference between these two categories of forests is that, in reserved forests, the activities like grazing, hunting, etc are banned unless the permission is granted for a particular reason. But in case of protected forests, mostly all these activities are allowed unless banned specifically.
As per IFA Act 1927, any forest land or wasteland that is government property and has not been specified as reserved forest can be declared as protected forest as per provisions of Chapter IV under IFA Act 1927.
For example, Sariska National Park was declared a reserved forest in 1955, upgraded to the status of a wildlife sanctuary in 1958, becoming a Tiger Reserve in 1978. Sariska became a national park in 1992, though primary notification to declare it as a national park was issued as early as 1982.
VILLAGE FORESTS (VF):
Village Forests are those when village communities are given duty to protect the forests. A "Common Important Forest" in India is a forest governed by local communities in a way compatible with sustainable development. Such forests are typically called village forests or panchayat forests, reflecting the fact that the administration and resource use of the forest occurs at the village and panchayat (an elected rural body) levels.
Hamlets, villages and communities of villages may actually administer such a forest. Such community forests are usually administered by a locally elected body, usually called the Forest Protection Committee, Village Forest Committee or the Village Forest Institution. Such committees are known as Van Panchayats in the Kumaon Division of Uttarakhand, Forest Co-operative Societies in Himachal Pradesh and Van Samrakshan Samitis in Andhra Pradesh.
Legislation pertaining to communal forests vary from state to state, but typically the state government retains some administrative control over matters like staff appointment, and penalization of offenders.
PROTECTED AREAS IN FORESTS
Conservation reserves and community reserves in India are terms denoting protected areas of India which typically act as buffer zones to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests of india. Such areas are designed as conservation areas if they are uninhibited and completely owned by the Government of India but used for subsistence by communities and community areas if part of the lands are privately owned.
These protected area categories were first introduced in the Wildlife Protection Amendment Act of 2002 – the amendment to the wildlife protection act of 1972 .
NATIONAL PARKS, BIOSPHERE RESERVES AND WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES
The common purpose for all these establishments is to save and protect : flaura and fauna and preserve them.
- Flora : trees, plants, vegetation
- Fauna : animals, birds, insects, etc.
The spectacular natural beauty across the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India attracts millions of tourists every year. However, there are some basic differences between national park and wildlife sanctuary.
FOREST RIGHTS ACT
Before we discuss the provisions of this act let us look back at the history of forest dwelling communities. Millions of people live in and around forest lands. They have no legal right to their homes, lands or livelihoods
This Act recognizes forest dweller’s rights and makes conservation more accountable. Under the Indian Forest Act , areas were often declared to be ‘ government forests’ without recording who lived in these areas or how they were using it.
As many as 82% of Madhya Pradesh Forest and 40% of Orissa’s reserved forests were never surveyed for people’s rights. Till 2017, 60% of India’s national parks have not completed their process of survey and settlement of rights of local people.
Without settlement of rights, thousands of forest dwellers were displaced from the protected areas. All the people living next to forests daily face restrictions on going into forest. National forest policy declares that forest should support needs of people. But the local forests guards may not allow people to take forest produce. People are subject to harassment and eviction. They were treated as encroachers in their own homes. Corruption and violence are common around forest areas.
The commissioner for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, has said that the criminalization of the entire communities in the tribal areas is the darkest blot on the liberal tradition of our country’. The Indian forest act, 1927, initially favoured extraction of timber by the state. This was repeated when Wild life protection act was passed in 1972.
The statement of the forest rights act describes it as a law intended to correct the ‘historical injustice’ done to forest dwellers by the failure to recognize their rights.
The Forest Rights Act includes two provisions.
- It grants recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws.
- It makes a beginning towards – giving communities and the public, a voice in forest and wild life conservation.
There are two stages to be eligible under this act.
1. First, a person has to satisfy two conditions;
The person has to be:
- Primarily residing in forests or forest lands.
- There should be bonafide livelihood needs.
It means that there should be dependence on forests and forest land for a livelihood.
2. Second, the person/s have to prove:
- That the above conditions have been true for 75 years , in which case the person will be grouped as an other traditional forest dweller or that the person is a member of a scheduled tribe and has been residing in the area where they have been scheduled.
In the latter case, the person is a forest dwelling scheduled tribe.
The law recognizes three types of rights.
- No one gets rights to any land that they have not been cultivating prior to Dec 13, 2005 or land they are not cultivating at present.
- Those who are cultivating lands but don’t have documents can claim upto 4 hectares, as long as they are cultivating the land themselves for a livelihood.
- Those who have a patta or a government lease but whose land has been illegally taken by the forest department or whose land is the subject of a dispute between forest and revenue departments can claim those lands.
This land cannot be sold or transferred to anyone except by inheritance.
The law provides for community rights to use and collect the following.
- minor forest produce like tendu patta, herbs , medicinal plants, etc. that has been traditionally collected. This does not include timber.
- Grazing grounds and water bodies.
- Traditional areas of use by nomadic or pastoralist communities can also be claimed under this act.
RIGHT TO PROTECT AND CONSERVE:
For the first time, this law gives community the right to protect and manage the forest. It provides a right and a power to conserve community forest resources.
This community has the general power to protect wildlife , forests, etc.
This is vital for the thousands of village communities who are protecting their forests and wildlife against threats from forest mafias, industries and land grabbers.
- Section 6 of the Act provides a transparent three step procedure for deciding on who gets rights.
- The gram sabha plays prominent role because it is the full village assembly. Gram sabha makes a recommendation – it states who has been cultivating land for how long , which minor produce is collected, etc. The gram sabha plays this role because it is a public body where all people participate. It is fully democratic and transparent. The gram sabha’s recommendations goes through two stages of screening committees at the taluka and district levels. The district level committee makes the final decision.
- The committies have six members – three government officers and three elected persons. At both taluka and district levels, any person who believes a claim is false can appeal to the committees , and if they prove their case that the right is denied (section 6(2) and 6 (4) }
- Land recognized under this Act cannot be sold or transferred.
- Mendha Lekha Village in Gadchiroli District, in Maharashtra has been leading the struggle for control over forest produce.
- Community forest rights of the Mendha Lekha Village were been recognized following FRA. It has initiated forest governance and management processes that are financially viable, socially equitable and economically sustainable.
- Another village in Amravti District received its community rights title in 2012 an devised forest use and protection rules leading to forest conservation and increased production of grass, custard apple and tendu leaves.
- In BRT Tiger Reserve , Karnataka, 33 settlements received Community Forest Rights titles. They came together to formulate a tiger conservation plan.
- In Gujrat’s Narmada district, more than 60 villages initiated simple governance systems to protect , conserve and manage forests.
- In Simplipal Tiger Reserve of Odisha, villages with CFR titles devised simple, rule based adaptive governance systems for their CFRs, and are now protecting their forests. Many communities across the country have successfully stopped forestry operations in their CFRs.
- Orissa has supported about 2,00,000 individual households holding forest land titles through convergence program relating to housing (Indira Awas Yojna) and land development , irrigation and horticulture.
- Some Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) have claimed habitat rights under this Act. Baigas’ of Central India have had some success in recognition of their rights in Baigachak Area.
- These include Khadia , Mankidias, Lodhas in Mayurbhanj District, Kutia Kondhs of Kandhamal District, Bonds of Malkangiri District in Odisha and Baigas in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh.
- However, the implementation of this Act has been stalled in many ways. Forest department and revenue department have been reluctant to deal with the processes as it reduced their control over land and discouraged corporate investments. Tribal deparment, which is in charge of the implementation, has not been able to deal with these conflicts of interest.
- The environmental lobby is divided. Those who focus mainly on habitat and species protection have opposed FRA because they feel that it will open all forests to exploitation by people.
- In some places, false claims have been filed by non eligible persons.
- The state and central government have created conflicting rules and policies that do not recognize the provisions of FRA.
- Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act of 2016 provides incentives to displace forest dwellers from protected areas by making a specific provision for funding relocation.
- Joint forest management committee supported by forest bureaucracy conflicts with transfer of forest control to gram sabhas under FRA.
- MOEFCC issued guidelines in August 2015 to lease 40% of degraded forests in the country to private companies for afforestation. These guidelines were in violation of forest rights act.
- They have forgotten the fact that most of these forests are either already recognized as CFRs or the process of claim settlement is ongoing.
- The various acts and policies related to forest habitats in India have irreversibly impacted the rural population. Tribals’ are seriously affected by these acts. Many of the issues of impoverishment, displacement, powerlessness of the communities and a direct result of loss of acres over forest resources. There are possibilities of sustainable management of these resources. Many conflicts are still needed to be resolved.