Comments by Ashok Sharma I.F.S
SCHEDULED TRIBES AND OTHER TRADITIONAL FOREST DWELLERS
( RECOGNITION OF FOREST RIGHTS ) RULES, 2007
Of the 43711 villages in the State, 15694 are forested. The forested villages have a population of over 24 million which accounts for about 25% population of the State.
There are 353 tehsils in the State, of which 27 are located in the Scheduled Areas, where 9.1 million tribal population of the State lives. The draft rules have the potential to cause
major adverse impacts on forests and wildlife in the State, specially in light of the Constitutional provisions which many of these rules seek to override.
The Act defines “community forest resources” as customary common forest land within the traditional or customary boundaries of the village or seasonal use of landscape
in the case of pastoral communities, including reserved forests, protected forests and protected areas such as Sanctuaries and National Pars to which the community had traditional access. However, Atricle 243G, which empowers Panchayats and not the Gram Sabha,
to plan and implement village level schemes, does not include the same in the Eleventh Schedule, i.e. the Village List! The Provision of the Panchayats ( Extension to the Scheduled Areas ) Act, 1996 also does not make any exception in this regard. Obviously,
the Constitution does not envisage extending the powers of Panchayats beyond the Village limits.
The Provision of the Panchayats ( Extension to the Scheduled Areas ) Act, 1996, introduces the role of Gram Sabha in the village administration. The instant Act and the draft rules, however, seek to extend purview of the The
Provision of the Panchayats ( Extension to the Scheduled Areas ) Act, 1996 to the non Scheduled Areas too!
The Eleventh Schedule incorporates “maintenance of community assets” it item no. 29. However, it remains to be clarified whether this includes “community forest resources”
per se. Although, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, as applicable to the State of Maharashtra, does not define “community forests”, it does provide, under Section 28, for the constitution of “village forest” But, such village forest also is limited to the boundaries
of the village Panchayat concerned. “Community Forest” is also not defined either in the Act or in the Draft Rules.
Similarly, the Constitution empowers the State Legislature to powers of Panchayats / Gram Sabhas, for the Scheduled and other areas. Can this power
be over ridden by a set of Rules, made under a Central Law? The draft rules seek precisely to do so which appears to be going beyond the Constitutional provisions.
The Draft Rules introduce certain definitions which are not incorporated in the Act. They include “bonafide livelihood needs”, “claimant’, ‘fixed demand holdings”,
“forest rights committee”, “other traditional rights” and “primarily reside in and who depend on forests or forest lands”. Under the definition of other traditional rights, traditional agricultural practices have been incorporated, which is a gross externality.