After Demolition Drive to Evict Nomadic Groups, J&K Govt to Implement FRA

The Forest Rights Act provides for the granting of rights over forest lands to forest dwellers.

New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmir government will implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which was not applicable in the union territory for the last 14 years, to grant and safeguard the rights of forest dwellers, an official spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The Forest Rights Act provides for the granting of rights over forest lands to forest dwellers. However, the rights conferred under this act shall be “heritable but not alienable or transferable”, he said.

This announcement came less than a week after the Jammu and Kashmir administration razed the temporary houses of Gujjar and Bakarwal nomadic groups in the Pahalgam area of Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The shelters were razed at the start of winter – when nomadic communities need it the most. The authorities claimed that the nomadic groups had “illegally occupied” the land.

Chief secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam on Wednesday chaired a meeting to review the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act and Rules, which became applicable in the union territory post the enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the spokesperson said.

He said departments of tribal affairs, and forest, ecology and environment started working on its implementation in October this year.

“It may be pointed out that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country,” the spokesperson said.

This Central Act was, however, not applicable or implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 14 years. It became applicable only after October 31, 2019.

On August 5, 2019, the Centre revoked the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The two UTs came into existence on October 31, 2019.

The spokesperson said it was decided that the ‘survey of claimants’ by the forest rights committees for assessing the nature and extent of rights being claimed at village level be completed by January 15, 2021, for their further submission to the respective sub-divisional committees.

Also read: The FRA Can’t Be Implemented Soon Enough in J&K and Ladakh

The sub-divisional committees shall complete the process of scrutiny of claims and preparation of ‘record of forest rights’ by or before January 31, 2021. Similarly, district level committees shall consider and approve the record and grant forest rights by March 1, 2021.

The spokesperson said it was decided that the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers will be provided with the rights over forest land for the purpose of habitation or self-cultivation, livelihood, ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, and entitlement to seasonal resources among others.

“However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferable,” he said.

The Act also provides that on the recommendation of the gram sabha, forest land up to one hectare can be diverted for the purpose of developing government facilities including schools, hospitals, minor water bodies, rainwater harvesting structures, minor irrigation canals, vocational training centres, non-conventional sources of energy, roads, etc.

It also empowers the holders of forest rights, and gram sabhas to protect wildlife, forest, biodiversity, catchment areas, water sources and other ecologically sensitive areas besides ensuring that the habitat of forest dwelling STs and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved.

Chief secretary Subrahmanyam impressed upon the forest department to immediately constitute the four-tier committees – state level monitoring committee, district level committee, sub-divisional level committee, and forest rights committee – to implement the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the UT.

For periodic review of the process and procedures associated with the Forest Rights Act and Rules, the forest department was asked to devise a suitable review mechanism along with monitoring formats, the spokesperson said.