Forest rights and heritage conservation

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Source– The post is based on the article “Forest rights and heritage conservation” published in The Hindu on 26th December 2022.

Syllabus: GS3- Environment conservation

Relevance– Issues related to protected areas

News– The article explains the issues of rights of people in protected areas in Karnataka. It also explains the status of  implementation of the Forest Right Act, 2006.

39 areas were declared by UNESCO in 2012 as being critical for biodiversity in the Western Ghats. 10 are in Karnataka.

What is the status of implementation of the Forest Right Act?

The majority of the forest dwellers claimed land that is not more than one acre.

The rejection rate of the other traditional forest dwellers was two times more than the STs.

In the case of the STs, the reasons were attributed to fresh encroachments; claimed lands being on wasteland and forest lands that are not protected or revenue lands. There were multiple applications made in a single family.

In the case of other traditional forest dwellers, it was mainly failure to produce evidence of dependency and dwelling on forest land for 75 years.

What are the challenges faced by the people in the villages falling under eco-sensitive zones?

They face severe restrictions on their entry into the forest. Development activities like road repair have been stopped.

Farming is not allowed in a normal way. The use of fertilizers is banned.

The people are prohibited from cutting trees falling on their houses to undertake repair work.

These restrictions were in enforcement after these areas were declared as protected areas and not necessarily after their declaration as world heritage sites.

The increasing animal insurgency is causing damage to the crops of the farming forest dwellers. They are  not given compensation for the loss if they do not have recognition of their land.

Livestock rearing in the villages close to forests is more challenging than in regular revenue villages. If irrigation projects come up, the grazing lands have been taken over by the government to compensate for the forest land lost to such projects.

What is the current status of rights of traditional forest dwellers?

The respondents were in possession of the lands claimed under the FRA even though their applications were either rejected or were still pending.

There were concerns that people were accepting the resettlement packages and moving out of ‘protected areas’ for good. If half the village population moved away, living a normal life will be difficult for the remaining population.

People are still deprived of basic facilities and other government benefits extended under various schemes and programmes. They don’t possess the records of land that is required to avail these benefits.

The issue becomes complicated when the people refuse to relocate on grounds of their attachment to the land. They are feared about extinction of their culture and religious roots. The gram sabha has to decide the proposed resettlement as it has to give ‘free informed consent’. However, this does not happen.

What is the way forward?

The government must bring more clarity to the Act. It should be done to avoid conflicts between the government agencies conserving biodiversity and the traditional forest dwellers.

The conservation of biodiversity requires special attention. Yet, forest dwellers willing to live in the forest must be allowed to stay.

Those wanting to experience the fruits of development must be relocated according to their choices. They should be given a suitable package. This can be possible only when the areas are declared as protected after consultations with the local population.

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