Highlights of the Bill
The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 seeks to recognise forest rights of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) who have been occupying the land before October 25, 1980.
An FDST nuclear family would be entitled to the land currently occupied subject to a maximum of 2.5 hectares. The land may be allocated in all forests including core areas of National Parks and Sanctuaries.
In core areas, an FDST would be given provisional land rights for five years, within which period he would be relocated and compensated. If the relocation does not take place within five years, he gets permanent right over the land.
The Bill outlines 12 forest rights which include the right to live in the forest, to self cultivate, and to use minor forest produce. Activities such as hunting and trapping are prohibited.
The Gram Sabha is empowered to initiate the process of determining the extent of forest rights that may be given to each eligible individual or family.
Key Issues and Analysis
- There are no reliable estimates of the likely number of eligible families although the Bill proposes to vest forest land rights to FDSTs. Therefore, it is not known whether there could be significant risk to existing forest cover.
- If FDSTs in core areas are not relocated within five years, it could lead to loss of forests, which are crucial to the survival of certain species of wildlife. Large-scale relocation, on the other hand, could result in possible harassment of FDSTs.
- Communities who depend on the forest for survival and livelihood reasons, but are not forest dwellers or Scheduled Tribes, are excluded from the purview of the Bill.
- The Bill specifies October 25, 1980 as the cut-off date to determine eligibility. However, it does not clarify the kind of evidence that would be required by FDSTs to prove their occupancy.
- Terms such as "livelihood needs" have not been defined. This could lead to litigation and delay in implementation.