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Forest Rights Bill to get final shape on May eight

By Staff
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New Delhi, May 5 (UNI) The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, which had encountered tremendous opposition from conservationists along with some reservations expressed by the Ministry of Forest and Environment, will be finalised by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on May Eight.

The Bill will be taken up for consideration during the budget session of Parliament which is going to meet on May ten after a recess.

''The Bill is being given final shape and will be cleared by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on May eight,'' Member of the Committee Brinda Karat told UNI.

The proposed legislation recognises the forest rights of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes who have been occupying the land before October, 1980. Each forest dwelling nuclear family will be entitled to land it was occupying provided it was not more than 2.5 hectares.

Under the Draft Bill, the forest dwelling families get 12 forest rights which include the right to live in the forest, to self cultivate, and to use minor forest produce. However, they have been prohibited from activities like hunting and trapping.

The extent of forest rights that may be given to each eligible individual or family will be determined by the Gram Sabha.

Communities who depend on the forest for survival and livelihood, but are not forest dwellers or Scheduled Tribes, have been excluded from the purview of the Bill.

The land to a forest dwelling family may be allocated in all forests including core areas of National Parks and Sanctuaries.

However, this right will be provisional for five years, within which period the titleholder would be relocated and compensated. If the relocation does not take place within five years, the person will get permanent right over the land.

The legislation is being brought in to give due recognition to forest rights of tribals not recorded while consolidating state forests during the British rule and also after the independence.

Supporters of the Bill argue that tribal communities have lived in forests for centuries, and granting them the formal right over forest land was just correcting a historical wrong.

Opposing them, conservationists say that certain species of animals like tigers cannot co-exist with humans, so at least some parts of forests should be reserved to conserve these species.

They also argue that human habitation in forests will lead to exploitation of forest resources and cause depletion of forest cover.

Opponents of the Bill also argue that exclusion of forest dwelling communities other than Scheduled Tribes from the rights will create social tension.

The Ministry of Forest and Enviornment officials also have some reservations on the draft legislation. They say the forest mafia will hijack the rights of the tribals conferred under the Bill and the poor people will not be able to resist them. Besides, it will lead to reckless exploitation of forests. They say as much as 16 per cent of the country's forest cover would be lost.

The Tribal Affairs Ministry, however, dismisses these fears, arguing that the actual forest land to be given to tribals under the provisions of the Bill was not more than one per cent of the total forest land.

Supporters of the Bill argue that conferring rights on tribals would actually help conservation as there has been a symbiotic relationship between forests and forest dwelling tribes.

However, some NGOs argue that the Ministry has also not been able to save the forest under its control and as much as 60 per cent of the forest cover under it has been reduced to wastelands.

UNI NAZ SK GC1012

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