Tribal Affairs Ministry Sidesteps Questions on Forest Rights Act in Rajya Sabha

The Minister of State of Tribal Affairs J.S. Bhabhor dodged providing substantial answers on the extent to which the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been implemented across various states in India.

forest right act

In today’s session of the Rajya Sabha, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs evaded properly answering a question in relation to the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (Forest Rights Act or FRA).

On being asked an unstarred question on the extent to which the Act has been implemented across various states in India, the Minister of State of Tribal Affairs J.S. Bhabhor could only provide a perfunctory reply.

Passing the buck

DMK MP Tiruchi Siva questioned the Ministry via a three-part query: how many states are yet to implement the FRA in its entirety, what causes have these states specified for their delay, and in what manner can the Act best protect the rights of the tribals as per the Ministry.

With respect to the first two parts of the query, Minister Bhabhor in essence passed the buck of implementation onto the state government. He wrote, “As per Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the rules made thereunder, implementation of the Act is the responsibility of the State Governments. The implementation of the Act is, however, an ongoing process and State Governments have been carrying out this process.”

It’s worth noting that “forests” as a legislative subject matter has been under Concurrent List since the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act.

Additionally, the Minister said that proactive action by the states best manner of implementing the Act. He noted, “Forest Rights Act, 2006 is an act to recognize and vest the forest rights onto dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded. … Proactive action towards effective implementation of the Act by State Governments would best protect the rights of the tribals. This Ministry has been writing to the State Governments from time to time in this regard.”

Incorrect claims

Minister Bhabhor asserted in his reply that some North-Eastern states have indicated non-applicability of the Act in their territory. Being a central legislation, this isn’t the case. As C. R. Bijoy from Campaign for Survival and Dignity noted, the Act is directly applicable to all North-East states, except that Nagaland and Mizoram require their respective state assemblies to pass resolutions extending it to their states.

Mizoram extended the FRA onto itself through a resolution passed under Article 371(G) which was notified into force in March 2010. At present, only Nagaland is left to decide whether this law should be extended to their state.

The Minister reported that these states have not received any claims under the Act from forest-dwellers in the North-East. This Status Report on the Implementation of FRA from April 2019 notes that Assam government has received 1,55,011 claims so far of which  58,802 have been recognised. Tripura also recognised 1,27,986 out of 2,00,635 claims made under the Act.

In this 2013 Consultation with the North-Eastern States on Implementation of FRA, it was noted that 55% of forestland in the region is “unclassed”, which prevents raising of claims for those areas.

The Minister also claimed in his reply that Punjab and Haryana reportedly do not have any forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers within the states.

In the MoTA Status Reports, only Haryana’s state government had informed the Ministry that there are no Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers living in its forests.

This claim also looks purportedly false. Under the FRA, “forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes” as well as “other forest dwelling tribes” are defined by whether they primarily reside in and depend on the forest lands. Although both states have the least amount of forest cover in the country, they definitely have forest dwelling communities in the region. The state of Haryana has reportedly consolidated forestland in the village Kot into common land so as to build a healthcare facility or a university.

Sources reported that Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chair Venkaiah Naidu refused to entertain a discussion on the implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006 even though notice was given.

Two Rajya Sabha MPs from CPI (M), Mr. Elamaram Kareem and Mr. K.K. Ragesh, attended the Sansad Gherao that was organised in Delhi today by a collective of forest rights groups such as Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, All India Kisan Sabha, and All India Union of Forest Working People, among others.

The written reply can be accessed here:




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