Abstract:Forests in India house over 250 million people whose home, hearth and livelihood come from their forest dwellings for generations. However, forest dwellers in India are among the most marginalized and neglected sections of the society comprising primarily of tribal and Dalit communities who are considered amongst the lowest in the social stratification. Discrepancies in tribal forest land allocation and redistribution has been at the centre of India’s Left Wing insurgency in what is called the Red Corridor. Therefore, he 2006 act’s importance multiplies in not only addressing the injustice done to the traditional forest dwellers over centuries, but also as a means to combat what has been called India’s worst national security crisis.
During the colonial era, the draconian Indian Forests Act (IFA) was enacted in 1927 which divided the forest into the Reserved (no human activity allowed) and Protected (controlled human activity allowed) categories. Some felling was allowed in the latter category, but cultivation and livestock grazing were banned in both. This destroyed the traditional way of life of these primitive tribes. After independence, the abolition of the Zamindari system (feudal land owning) exacerbated the situation as more common lands were nationalized and converted into protected forests. This was later amended and the traditional occupants were given titles based on the length of occupancy. This, however, gave disproportionate power to the Patwaris (keeper of land records), and given the non-existence of ownership records corruption became rampant.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) was enacted in 2006 to address the sever shortcomings of the 1927 act. The FRA sought to rectify this by providing a clear, transparent and environmentally friendly procedure for the resettlement of the people and displaced wildlife.
However, the act is not serving the purpose with which it was enacted. In 2012, then Minister for Tribal Affairs, Mr. Kishore Chand Deo had written a letter to the Chief Ministers of states, urging them to implement the act properly. However, despite all the efforts by the civil society activists, the implementation record of the act has remained poor. Moreover, widespread corruption which still exists in the process of implementation has hindered the powers of the act substantially.
This paper aims to examine the main causes leading to the failure of this act and why it is critical in combating Left Wing Extremism. It will also delve into the issue of democratic redistribution of land in postcolonial India and why it hasn’t been a success so far, leading to a violent insurgency which is one of the longest India has seen.
Bio// Medha Chaturvedi is currently a Global Challenges Fellow at the School of Public Policy|Institute for Advanced Studies at the Central European University, Budapest. Her primary areas of focus are Democratic Systems and Developmental Challenges in India's Left Wing Extremism and Indigenous and Ethnic Conflicts in Myanmar examining the role of governance deficit including the role of federal structures (PESA, PRIs and Gram Sabhas in the Indian context). She has also examined the impact of these conflicts on the most vulnerable sections of the society, women and children and have worked on issues of trafficking and forced migration in India and Myanmar. In pursuing her research, she conducted field visits in some of the most excluded areas in India in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab.
Prior to this assignment, she was a Senior Fellow with the India Centre for Migration in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs where she conducted research on Conflict Induced Displacement of People of Indian Origin in Myanmar. For that project, as a part of her field visit in Myanmar, she visited Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states among other relevant sites.
She graduated in International Economics from Poona University, has a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communications from Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai and a Masters in Political Science and International Relations from University of Delhi.
(This research is part of a project at Global Challenges Fellowship 2015-16 jointly conducted by the Insititute of advanced Studies and School of Public Policy.)