Extend ‘ tribal & forest  rights’ to J&K — by Dr. Javaid Rahi

Extend ‘ tribal & forest  rights’ to J&K -a demand by Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir                                                                                      Article by : Dr. Javaid Rahi

On the occasion of the inauguration of ‘National Tribal Carnival’ on  October 25th, 2016, in New Delhi,  the  Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi  exclusively praised  the tribes of India  which marked intense struggle  throughout their life . He declared them as  ideals of community living, and of living cheerfully despite many troubles.

Prime Minister   also  complimented the nomadic communities for their role in the conservation of forests in India. He said ,  if we have to protect Jungles  we should utilize  tribes. He further said  that the inheritance of tribes is largely based on forests as they are the real custodian of forests.

Prime Minister  stated  that the livelihood of tribes is largely based on forest , though they have no written record of their land dwell in and due to this they are facing  difficulties. He said,  his Govt  is committed to give rights to tribes and center with the help of State Governments  allotted  lands / Pattas of forest to Tribes for the reason that they  must get due privileges . He said  nobody will be allowed to dislocate the tribes from their inherited lands,  owned by them traditionally. He said my govt,  will take serious steps in this direction. Tribes should get  ownership on forest lands, as the Jungles are a  part of their life and livelihood  which could not be separated at all.

Moreover , the Prime Minister  admitted in his 40 minutes long speech that Tribal are the main curator  of treasures of traditional knowledge about herb . He said most of natural resources and forests in India  were found in the same parts of the country where the  tribal communities lives. He said while resources had to be harnessed, exploitation of tribal  could not be allowed. But know,   new allocations in Union Budget  would help channelize funds for the development of the tribal communities. He said this decision would unlock huge amounts of money for development of the mineral rich districts.

Forest (tribal ) Right Act- 2006

On 18th December 2006, the Indian parliament passed a legislation whereby the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers were equipped with the  rights  on forest land and other resources. It was an initiative of Govt of India to redress the historical injustice committed against tribes who are the main forest dwellers, while including provisions for making conservation more effective and more transparent.

Through this legislation which came into force on 31 December 2007 following rights have been granted  to tribes of India ;-

  1. Ownership  and Title rights to land,   subject to a maximum of 4 hectares, that is being farmed by tribal or forest dwellers as on 13 December 2005.
  2. Use rights – Rights were granted to tribes to grazing areas, to pastoralist route to minor forest produce (also including ownership),
  3. Rehabilitation ; to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement Relief and development rights  were granted  for basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
  4. Protection Rights  and Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.

The eligibility for ‘Forest Rights’ to get rights is confined to those who “primarily reside in forests or  who depend on forests and forest land for  their  livelihood. Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribes scheduled in that area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.

Types of Rights  granted to Indian Tribes

  1. Right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce.
  2. Right to hold and live in the forest land for self-cultivation for livelihood by Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers
  3. For settled or transhumant community rights of uses of entitlements such as fish and other products of water bodies, grazing and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities;
  4. Right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use;
  5. Right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity.
  6. Traditional and customarily right  enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers.
  7. Community rights such as nistar, by whatever name called, including those used in erstwhile Princely states, Zamindari or such intermediary regimes
  8. Other rights as may be granted by the State.

J&K awaits extension of Forest Act 

Owing to its special position,  under article 370 of Constitution of India, the states  of  Jammu and Kashmir has not extended the Forest Right Act 2006 till date , though it was largely implemented in all most all the states of India.

In absence of  forest rights , around 12   Scheduled Tribe  communities are facing a lot of hardship including evocation from land by Forest department from time to time. They are  demanding  extension of ‘Forest Rights Act-2006’ enacted by Indian Parliament to the  J&K so that they can also have rights on forest lands as are constitutionally available to other STs  across the country.

Fighting for their rights , the members of different tribal communities have been raising   the  issue  at different forms. They are pleading  that the government  should follow  the other state’s model to settle nomads especially  to rehabilitate   the  nomadic Gujjars-Bakarwals’ who are  the main forest dweller community of  the state.

Presently nomadic tribes of  Jammu and Kashmir state have no rights on the forest lands as no identical law to Forest Right Act  is enforced  in the state .The 80% of  tribal population comprising of   Gujjars and Bakerwals which constitute 20% of total 125 Lakhs population of the State . They rear sheep , goats, buffalos, camels and other animals and    a sizeable chunk among them is still landless, shelter less and deserves dwelling rights on forest lands which they are using as traditional inhabitants since centuries together.

No hurdles to extend Rights

Apparently,  there are no hurdles seen in the way  of extension  of Forest Rights   Act-2006 to J&K. The PDP – BJP govt. in J&K  which was the first to establish Tribal Ministry in the state and were seen keen to develop marginalised communities. Further the J&K ‘s Forest Policy 2010  also provided  “concessions” to nomadic graziers,  though  are not enough for tribal communities.

The forests are the home of  nomadic  tribes . Lakhs of nomadic  Gujjars-Bakarwals  in J&K still resides in forest during migration and  their economy is completely  based on forest products, lands.

In past , the tribes especially Gujjars are  protecting forests against mafias, land grabbers but as per laws available, protection of forests by persons other then officials is illegal in Jammu and Kashmir which is unjust and against tribal rights. They  must be declared as a forest protector by settling them properly and lawfully.

Rehabilitation of nomads  through  Forest Rights;

12  ST communities  of State  are expecting a positive outcome of the committee constituted by Governor of J&K N N Vohra  in March 2016 during ‘Governor  Rule’  under the supervision of Chief Secretary B. R. Sharma who was asked to prepare a draft plan to re-locate and re-rehabilitate nomadic tribes who move from place to place in the state.

The order was issued after one nomadic Gujjar was killed during evocation of land by Forest department in Samba District of Jammu province. To rehabilitate the tribes, other states of India have developed “Forest villages” for tribal and nomadic groups for rehabilitation of STs with the help of Union Tribal Affairs Ministry.

Since , the state of Jammu and Kashmir is enjoying special status  in Constitution of India and is empowered to either extend the Forest Right  Act -2006 to J&K or  come up with a legislation of its own thereby granting rights to tribes of J&K on the land occupied by them since centuries.

( Dr. Javaid Rahi – a tribal activist- can be mailed at ; javaidrahi@gmail.com)

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