Background Note: State Convention on Proposed Amendments to Indian Forest Act 1927

Background Note: State Convention on Proposed Amendments to Indian Forest Act 1927

Purpose of Indian Forest Act 1927

The primary objective of enacting the Indian Forest Act in the in the colonial period- in 1878 and 1927 was to better manage the timber resources for commercial purpose and revenue generation. The Act gave the Government and Forest Department the power to create Reserved Forests, protected forests and Village forest and the right to use such Reserved Forests was only limited to the State. It attempted to consolidate areas with forest cover and significant wildlife to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and levied duties on timber and other forest produce. The traditional rights of millions for people were overlooked.

The forest dwelling communities were exploited for generations and the characteristics of the natural forests largely transformed to monocultures or commercial species. The comprehensive ecological aspects of forests did not find any space in the Indian Forest Act.

Mover ever, when Parliament of India, enacted  the Forest  Rights  Act,2006  to correct the historical injustice, the preamble of the Act for the first time defined the dual purpose as “ maintenance of ecological balance and thereby strengthening the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and  food security of the  forest dwelling  Scheduled Tribes and  Other Traditional Forest dwellers”.

What the Amendment to IFA 1927 proposes

While the preamble of IFA, 1927, said the Act was focused on laws related to transport of forest produce and the tax on it, the amendment has increased the focus to “conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability to ensure provision of ecosystem services in perpetuity and to address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments.

The new proposed amendments to IFA, 1927 has completely ignored these aspects and no attempts have been made to incorporate these provisions to strengthen the decentralized community centred forest governance

There are various aspects of the Proposed Amendment that are regressive in nature and defeats the purpose of conservation and livelihood. The major problem areas of the Act are as follows

  1. Definition of forest : The draft defines ‘forest’ as ‘any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest land in any government record and the lands managed by the government/community as forest and mangroves, and also any land which the Central or State government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of the Act.’ It includes ‘...meadows, grassland, watercourses, ponds, lakes, roads etc’. The draft thereby attempts to bring these areas  under the jurisdiction of forest department which currently may be also with other line departments.
     
  2. Definition of Community: “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”. This further narrows the definition of community and only makes those eligible who are in the government records. The very purpose of enactment of FRA was that rights of the forest dwellers were never recorded.
     
  3. Village forests: The draft proposes village forest as forestland or wasteland, which is the property of the government and would be jointly managed by the community through the Joint Forest Management Committee or Gram Sabha. Gram Sabha is a constitutional body and a general assembly which has all adult members of a village. Any forest management committee is only the executive arm of the Gram Sabha. In the areas where CFR rights have been recognized, the mandated committee is as per FR Rules the 4 (1) (e).
     
  4. Rights of communities have largely been limited or delegitimized. This is an attempt to make Forest Rights Act redundant.: The amendments proposes that if the state government, after consultation with the central government, feels that the rights under FRA will hamper conservation efforts, then the state “may commute such rights by paying such persons a sum of money in lieu thereof, or grant of land, or in such other manner as it thinks fit, to maintain the social organisation of the forest dwelling communities or alternatively set out some other forest tract of sufficient extent, and in a locality reasonably convenient, for the purpose of such forest dwellers”.
     
  5. Promote Commercial and production forestry with the help of Private entities and large corporations: These will be forests with specific objectives for production of timber, pulp, pulpwood, firewood, non-timber forest produce, medicinal plants or any forest species to increase production in the country for a specified period. Even when the Preamble says the purpose is to increase forest cover, amendments  proposed are contrary to ecological  health and  conservation of  biodiversity.
     
  6. Strengthen the forest department (including financially) to become unaccountable (by providing various indemnity), autocratic and quasi-judiciary. In fact it allows for the department to raise a para-military force, armed and with power to, on mere suspicion, cause violence against and/or arrest anyone for a non-bail able offence.
     
  7. It undermines the federal structure and provides unilateral power to the Central and State Governments to take over whatever forests and commons without any process, and acquire rights[i] and levy charges for any use by the local people.
     
  8.  The rights of Gram Sabha have been excluded from the Reserve Forest, wherein the state would be free to de-reserve the forests for non-forestry purposes. This does not ensure taking consent from local communities and forest dependent people. Even with the potential of Community Forest resources Rights  (CFR) under FRA only attained 10-12% of  implementation, the purpose of Reserve and Protected forests have not even been evaluated w.r.t to CFR.
     
  9. The Forest Settlement Officer can admit or extinguish any rights if not presented in a written format within the specified period. This completely undermines the rights recognition process as laid down under FRA.
     
  10.  The proposed amendment also provides for the forest department to take over the forests which are not in their jurisdiction, including those under the jurisdiction of other government agencies and communities (these can also be CFRs) ‘for conservation of forests and land.
     
  11. It also proposes that if a person is beneficiary of village forest, no rights, pasture rights or collection of MFP will be admitted in Protected Forest.This means villages which have Village Forests (presumably also CFR forests) will not be able to claim rights in any other forests

Implications of the proposed Amendments to IFA 1927

  • Reassert and strengthen the forest department and take away already limited accountability that the department has had either towards respecting rights of the people or that of the wildlife and forest.
     
  • IFA amendments are recreating the same historical injustice which FRA seeks to undo. The proposal for extension of 'deemed forest category' to all states and for continuing the provision for settlement of rights by FSO (which is now overridden by FRA) are some of the provisions which are recreating historical injustice which FRA seeks to undo. (plantations, protected areas etc).
     
  • State to ‘reclaim’ the forest where the rights of the local communities have already been recognized under the FRA and prevent any further recognition of rights to take place. IFA amendments undermine the right of forest dwellers to live with dignity by having regressive provisions to give unfettered powers to the forest bureaucracy to deal with forest settlement and importantly with offences.
     
  • Make large parts of forests easily available for hand over to the industry for commercial purposes and do away with the consent of the gram sabha before doing so. The idea of production forests completely negate the key principles of forest conservation enunciated by the NFP of 1988 and undermines the idea of 'community forest resources' established by FRA. Moreover production forests can legitimize and promote operation of commercial activities in forests by the forest dept (through the monoculture plantations) and by the forest development corporations (with the FDCs going about forest felling in many areas violating rights).It will change the nature of forest from  multiple, biodiverse species to monoculture production forestry for commercial benefit.
     
  •  Any categories of forests where there may be conflicts of ownership between the government and the people such as the ‘unclassed forests’ to be squarely and categorically bought under the jurisdiction of the forest department without following any process.

 

[i] Reference

  • COMMENTS ON THE PROPOSED INDIAN FOREST (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2018 Kalpavriksh, Pune
  • Joint  Statement by CFRLA, AIFFM, MAKAAM, ABMKSS to withdraw the IFA AMENDMENTS 2019 PROPOSED BY THE MOEFCC

Read more on recommendations on proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act 1927.

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