Not an ideal start to Forest Rights Act in J&K

Not an ideal start to Forest Rights Act in J&K

The Forest Rights Act, officially called the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, was passed by Indian Parliament on 18th December 2006 and received the assent of the President nine days later on 29th December. The Act was a unique piece of forest legislation, meant to correct the historical injustice suffered by forest-dwelling communities and to recognise and protect their rights over forest land and resources. The Act also provided for the constitution of community-based governing bodies for the protection and management of forest areas inhabited by these communities.
The Act at that time did not apply to the State of J&K, due to the restrictions imposed on Parliament’s legislative powers in respect to the state under Article 370. Forest-dwelling communities in J&K, thus, couldn’t enjoy the rights granted under this Act. However, after the Indian Parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act in August 2019, the Forest Rights Act was extended to the newly created Union Territory in October 2019.
Jammu and Kashmir is the only region in northwest India with a considerable share of Scheduled Tribes population. As per the 2011 Census, STs constituted 11.9% of the total population of the state. These Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) have mostly been described in relationship with natural resources like land, forests and water and such long association has resulted in innovative and useful practices related to the sustainable use of forest resources and the development of the forest areas in which they reside. Historically, the tribal groups of the region enjoyed access to forests with proper registration during the Dogra rule (1846-1947) and families were allotted patches of land for habitation and cultivation. However, these rights were slowly eroded over time, due to which these tribes faced many problems over the issue of access and control of forest land. The early evictions of these tribes took place when pastures like Gulmarg were converted into tourist resorts, and with the spread of militancy in the region during the 1990s, these tribes lost access to many forest areas and their traditional routes of movement became closed.
As the state enjoyed special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which stopped the direct application of many central laws on the state, including The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Act, 2006), which recognises and vests forest rights and occupation of forest land in forest dwelling STs and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests from generations, but whose rights could not be recorded, the law provided a framework for the recording, recognition and vesting of forest rights. The 2006 FRA act was extended to J&K along with another 106 central laws and came into force in October 2019. The Act recognises the FDST and OTFD as integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem and thereby the goal of forest conservation is best served by letting them stay on their lands and not by evicting them. The Act not only recognises their rights but also authorises and empowers them to govern, conserve and manage the forest areas. It also endeavors to facilitate their political empowerment by giving them a basis to participate in various processes so that they have an equal stake as citizens of the country.
The Act made a clear paradigm shift towards the treatment of these dwellers and provided a much-needed counterweight to state-centric forestry, as it reinstated the rights of forest dwellers in all dimensions of forest governance and sought to strengthen forest conservation. The Act envisages a bottom-up approach by vesting critical powers to Gram Sabha and the creation of Forest Rights committee to assist the Sabha in the process of vesting rights. The Act also democratised policy implementation by making the village-level meeting the first point of initiation in the process of claiming of rights and not the bureaucracy. The Gram Sabha under this Act is empowered to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects wild animals, forests and biodiversity. The Act requires states to constitute forest rights committees at four levels: village level, sub-divisional level, district-level, and state-level, for the proper implementation of the Act. The Act also provides for various conditions in order to qualify as FDST and OTFD and be eligible for recognition of rights under the FRA. In case of FDST, the applicant must be ST in the area where the right is claimed and primarily resided in the area prior to 13-12-2005 and dependent on forest land for livelihood needs. To qualify as OTFD and be eligible for the recognition of rights, two conditions need to be fulfilled: 1. Primarily resided in the forest land for three generations (75 years) prior to 13-12-2005, and 2. Dependent on forests for bonafide livelihood needs.
The implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006 had been a long pending demand of activists in J&K, particularly from the marginalised Gujjar-Bakarwal community, which comprises a large chunk of the population dependent on forests. While traditionally these dwellers used the forest resources and lands for generations on quasi-official orders and to a large extent official indifference, at the micro-level forest dwellers have been in friction with and sometimes exploited by forest officials. While the Act officially came into force in Oct 2019, even before the implementation of the Act could have taken place, the Forest Department of the region demolished dozens of huts of forest dwellers in Pahalgam and other places and also razed to ground thousands of apple trees in Budgam area by claiming that they were following the J&K High Court orders of July 2019, which directed the government to remove encroachment of forest land. After these demolitions, the Gujjar and Bakarwal families alleged that they were being forcefully evicted from their traditional forest areas and a lot of videos and photos emerged on social media platforms from various parts of the UT, which invited the attention of rights activists and intense media scrutiny. The government subsequently announced in November 2020 that it would implement the law and set the deadline of January 15, 2021, for the collecting of applicants’ information, with the aim of approving all eligible claims by March 2021. The forest department on the other hand also published a list of about 63,000 people in December 2020 whom it claimed to be living and farming illegally on a total of 15,000 hectares of forest land and served eviction notices to many families, which is a direct contravention of the FRA 2006. The Act makes it clear that it overrules every other law that is operational, so the demolitions and evictions are illegal and go against the spirit of the FRA.
The FDST and OTFD of the region had hoped that implementation of the FRA will vest in them the much-needed and long-overdue rights, but the implementation of the Act on the ground not only remains slow but seems to be facing various types of hurdles, due to which the forest dwellers continue to suffer.
Yaasir Ahmad is Junior Research Fellow at Department of Political Science, Kashmir University. Jauhar Rafeeq is a PhD scholar at Faculty of Forestry, SKUAST-K.
Department of Psychiatry, SKIMS Medical College BeminaWhat now for Farooq?AG NOORANIOn March 13, Dr Farooq Abdullah was released from detention. Earlier on Feb 12, A.S. Dulat met Farooq. His visit was cleared by the Indian gov-ernment and was facilitated by the Intelligence Bureau. Dulat and Farooq go a long way back. Dulat joined the Indian Police Service in 1965 and was deputed to the IB. He was posted to Kashmir in 1988 and headed the IB’s Kashmiri operation group during the insurgency. He rose to head RAW from 1992-2000 and later joined prime minister Vajpayee’s office in 2000. In Kashmir, his task was “to keep Farooq Abdul-lah in good humour”. Farooq told him he was “like a brother” to him. Dulat knew everybody in Kashmir who mattered except Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Besides, he has extensive contracts in Pakistan and has co-authored a book with for-mer ISI chief Asad Durrani.The day after Farooq’s release, Dulat said in a press interview that while he himself was fully committed to India and brought up his children in the same way, now he did not know how to answer questions his grandchil-dren may ask.Farooq’s prime worry should be how to face the existential threat that Narendra Modi’s regime poses to Kashmir. Holidays to mark Shaikh Abdullah’s birthday and Free-dom Day are gone. The iconic Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre, named after Shaikh sahib, has had ‘Sher’ dropped from its name. Dulat is both an operator and conciliator. He candidly wrote, “[T]he IB was a key … to the central government’s hold on Kashmir”. The IB has been managing elec-tions, bribing politicians across the board, and manipulating them as well. But he knows that the status quo is fragile, which is why he publicly stated that he would ask the govern-ment to start talking to Pakistan.A new political outfit, the Apni Party, was launched in Srinagar on March 8, less than a week before Farooq’s release. It comprises known pro-Delhi politicians, headed by one Altaf Bukhari formerly of Mehbooba’s PDP. They met Modi. A statement from the prime minister’s office revealed the Modi-Bukhari consensus. Bukhari “hailed” the abrogation of 370 and 35A. Modi promised him to apply central laws to Kashmir in a “fast-moving process of political integration”.Modi outlined the stages of that pro-gress: first, delimitation of constituencies in order to tilt the balance in favour of Jammu; next, elections, and “only after that would statehood be restored”. No wonder that the Congress’ Kashmiri leader called this so-called Apni Party an “agency party” (read: a plant of the IB). The next day these faithfuls met the deputy prime minister and home minister Amit Shah. The agenda is to bring back Kashmiri Pandits in large numbers, and inflate Jammu’s seats in the assembly to reduce Kashmiri’s predomi-nance. Detainees will be freed, internet restored, curfew relaxed and Kashmir’s sta-tus restored “at an early opportunity”.The fact that this very assurance was given repeatedly since Aug 5, 2019, suggests that restoration was an integral part of the original plan — bring Kashmiris to their knees and give them some crumbs to ensure that they acquiesced. Amit Shah bluntly told Bukhari & Co, “Article 370 is gone; that’s now an old story … let’s move ahead of it”. And this plan is what Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar and all the detained leaders of Kash-mir are up against. Farooq has been deceived more than once; last on the eve of Aug 5 when Modi personally assured them that no such plan was afoot.One cannot help suspecting that Dulat’s aim was to persuade Farooq Abdullah to ac-cept the new status quo. But what leverage does he have now? The answer is — the people of Kashmir. They are waiting for a lead and a leadership. He has their work cut out for him to revive the process formalised at the all-party meeting in the Gupkar Declaration at his residence on Aug 4, in which “it was unan-imously resolved that all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend [the area’s] identity, autonomy and special status … against all attacks whatsoever. That modification, abrogation of Articles 35A and 370, unconstitutional delimitation or trifur-cation … would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. … The representatives of the political parties re-solved to remain together and stand united in their struggle for safeguarding identity, au-tonomy and the special status of [Kashmir].” Will Farooq Abdullah take the Gupkar route or the Dulat route?The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai—Courtesy DawnFarooq has been deceived more than once; last on the eve of Aug 5 when Modi personally assured them that no such plan was afoot.One cannot help suspecting that Dulat’s aim was to persuade Farooq Abdullah to accept the new status quo. But what leverage does he have now? The answer is — the people of Kashmir. They are waiting for a lead and a leadership.The Invisible Influence On UsMOHAMMAD IMRANWhat a life we would have if only we were left to do as we pleased! But as we grow up, all of a sudden, a neither visible nor tangible unknown entity arises and begins to exert its in-visible influence on us.It shapes our opinions and our be-haviour. It discourages us from ques-tioning or debating the beliefs and practices of the majority. We begin to meet the demands of the collective, the society in which we live.We can say that society has a will of its own, an ability to think and act in its own right. But what makes it able to exert such influence on us is perhaps because it is endowed with a higher consciousness, because it is composed of several of us. Our collective consciousness pro-tects our collective interests by way of devising obligations, morals, values, and customs. These may force us to do jobs that we may not like, in order to meet expectations such as financial success, social status, gender roles, etc. Due to the fear of ostracism, we refrain from committing acts that go against the collective consensus.For me, the force that society exerts and to a large, even total, degree dictates our behaviour, does in fact come from you and me. So, if you and I pulled back ourselves from it, this collective entity and its influence will cease to exist, too.But no, we will not pull back our-selves because this entity obliges us to experience reality in certain ways and not in others. It causes each of us to view ourselves as a cultural and social object. It creates a moral force that con-trols us and makes us think, feel and act as it wishes. You cannot cross its limits; in its higher wisdom it knows how to achieve the equilibrium that is its goal.By way of maintaining this equilib-rium this collective entity creates a so-cial structure. Social life appears to us as a system of more or less deeply rooted habits, values and actions correspond-ing to the needs of all of us. Some values and actions are commands, but most of them are habits of obedience. If we obey our parents or teachers, show respect for elders, refrain from smoking, follow customs, etc, it is be-cause of the internalisation of these habits, values and actions. This does not mean that they are innate and develop autonomously; they may depend on our interactions with family members, peers, authority figures, cultural idols, and primarily though observing how others respond to them.If you do not internalise these values and habits, the social struc-ture will push you out. We have been taught that we are by nature greedy and sensual, thus we require this so-cial structure for restraining us. In the absence of this force, the self and its passions are always profane and never become sacred.It is impossible to investigate how this force began. It is something which is universal across societies. We cannot know it but still we en-dorse its rules of proper conduct and punish anyone who violates them. If the authority of this force is ques-tioned by someone, then religion and tradition come to its rescue. Whether religion has a social or a spiritual essence, one thing is certain: that it has always played a role of support-ing the social system and reinforcing the claims of this invisible collective consciousness.
—The writer is a Junior Research Fellow (JRF). [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.