By- JN Lai (Asst. Prof, International College, the University of Suwon, S Korea)
First, before coming tothe Forest Rights Act, let me touchupon a few dimensions of the eviction of 74 houses belong to the Meetei-Pangal (Muslim) and other structures along the foothills of Nongmaiching/Awaching lies in the eastern side of Imphal.There provoke some implications.The implications are of the human rights for the so called encroachers, empathy of sudden homelessness and loss of property, coincident of ever growing attack on Non-Hindu elements and also ostensible skip of the bigger hot deal of border encroach by Myanmar authority, and overt double standard of the major community as well.
In this case, more or less, an implication involves a threat to the non-Muslim communities in Manipur. Although, it is undiplomatic fashion present my words this manner, we should be sincere and be capable of acknowledging our flaw and fault irrespective of the creed and community we belong to. So, an anti-Muslim undercurrent attitude pulsated by the stereotype Islamic radical mentality, for example – practice of reproduction of offspring way more than other communities’, constant dominant strategic activities againstthe non-Islamic neighbors, and violent conflict tendency that may explode anytime remain very active in the hearts and minds of the other communities.
At the same time, a loud hypocrisy of the major community does not help the challenges to be addressed affirmatively. I got a kind of good impression from a post of a Meetei Facebook friend; he wrote, “If you celebrate during their tragedy, they will dance during our tragedy too. What goes around comes around.”He continued, “What’s really troubling me is seeing many Meiteis on SM who don’t have a single idea of this place called KshetriBengoon start celebrating the demolition not because of their genuine love for forest but for the simple reason that the place belong to other community....that’s just plain wrong and insensitive.…..As a normal and right thinking citizen, we should all be really disturbed by these questions not celebrating the demolition. Guess we the Meiteis would have certainly reacted differently had the affected locality belongs to us. Love begets love.And lastly...do we really care about our environment, lakes, forest and rivers??”
Secondly, now, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (FRA in short) was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2006. It aims at ending the discriminatory action and attitude from the forest departments in the name of forest and wild life protection upon the forest people and other communities who have been living in and around the forest.
Since the State appropriation of the forests in colonial India, the control of the forest people over their own forests and rights to govern their own forests were taken away by the State by the colonial Indian Forest Act. A forest bureaucracy and the forest department were instituted to manage the Indian forests and legitimate tenurial and access rights were severely curtailed. The post independent forest legislations such as the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 in the name of protecting the wildlife and the destruction and diversion of forests, actually, turned the forest people in to criminals and encroachers.
Under this FRA 2006
1. “Forest Land” is noted as land of any description falling within any forest area and includes unclassified forests, undemarcated forests, existing or deemed forests, protected forests, reserved forests, Sanctuaries and National parks;
2. “Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes” means the members or community of the Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests and forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs and includes the Scheduled Tribe pastoralist communities; and
3. Very interestingly,”Other Traditional Forest Dweller” means any member or community who has for at least three generations i.e. 75 years prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depends on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs. Here, theMeeteis andthe indigenous Meetei-Pangal who have been living nearby the forest of Manipur areimplied.
The FRA mentioned the nature and specificity of the rights vested to forest people. Under the Section 3 of the Act there are a bunch of 13 rights guaranteed. Some of them are (i) rights to secure individual or community tenure or both; (ii) right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood; (iii) community rights such as nistar; (iv) right of ownership, to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce; (v) right to protect and regenerate any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use; (vi) rights which are recognised under any State law or laws of any Autonomous District Council or Autonomous Regional Council or which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State; (vii) right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity; and (viii) any other traditional right customarily enjoyed excluding the traditional right of hunting.
Third, in Manipur, the natural-ecological differences between the hills and the valley came to acquire political overtones, became the separate bases for political mobilization, spreading antagonism and conflict at all levels. A dichotomy has come to be inscribed into the very structure of the society among the different indigenous communities. In such situation the implementation of Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 is becoming a real difficulty to the stake holders especially to the government of Manipur. Again, already the provisions of the Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution have vested most of the rights of the schedule tribes hence, there is some questions to the actual importance of this new law.
In the rest of India, the forest communities including the movements and groups supporting their struggle for the last few decades feel that the FRA looks like bringing in a paradigm shift not only in the nature and scope of the rights conferred but also in the governance and management of forests from the hand and control of the forest bureaucracy to that of the community. For the first time, forest legislation recognizes the rights of the forest communities to make sustainable use of the forests for their livelihood while protecting the forests, wildlife and its biodiversity from destructive practices and projects.
Yet that will mean coming together to discuss and arrive at a correct interpretation of the FRA, identify problems, and dispel apprehensions. We need to be aware of the Act, its provisions, its impact, its benefits and pitfalls, if any, and take collective noises.