MAC: Mines and Communities

Highlights From The Report Of The Jpc On The Scheduled Tribes

Published by MAC on 2006-05-23



23rd May 2006

A Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was appointed to look into the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 that was tabled in the Lok Sabha on 13th December, 2005 by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA). The report of the JPC has been presented to the Lok Sabha on 23rd May, 2006.

The JPC was appointed in January, 2006. The Chairman of the JPC was Shri. V. Kishore Chandra Deo, M.P., Lok Sabha. The JPC consisted of 30 members from various political parties (twenty from the Lok Sabha and ten from the Rajya Sabha).

The Committee invited inputs from the public through the print as well as electronic media of national as well as regional newspapers and television. Questionnaires were also sent out to State governments. Over a hundred detailed written inputs representing the views of stakeholders and others were received.

Fourteen meetings of the committee were held, and individuals, wildlife experts, representatives of NGOs, people's movements and campaigns, farmer groups, women's groups, people from local communities including tribals, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs etc. were heard by the Committee.

Some of the key recommendations of the Committee are as follows:

- In correcting a historical injustice, it is essential that the Act should include not only forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes, but other traditional forest dwellers as well. However, different criteria have been recommended for other traditional forest dwellers (they should have been in occupation of the said land and rights for at least three generations, or have been in occupation of such land as a result of governmental initiatives which placed them in such areas. Furthermore, specific committees mandated by the Act -at sub-divisional levels etc.- should have at least fifty percent Scheduled Tribe members).

- It is important to note that no new distribution of land will take place, and also that all the land where forest rights will be recognized accounts for less than two percent of the forest area of our country. In this context, it has been recommended that the ceiling of 2.5 hectares is an unjust one. The ceiling also assumes that everyone is engaged in individual settled cultivation when particularly in tribal areas, there is a wide diversity of land use systems, and, The ceiling does not take the quality of land into account when state ceiling laws specifically use the concept of 'standard acre or hectare' which accounts for land quality/productivity. Therefore, no ceiling should be mentioned in the Bill.

- The cut-off date of 1980 should be changed to the date of the introduction of this Bill (13th Dec., 2005). Some of the reasons for this are: the cut-off date of 1980 (26 years ago), implies that the rights of all displaced people since 1980 would not be recognized, and this is unjust; Since 1980, over ten lakh hectares of forest land have been diverted for mining, industry and large scale developmental projects- if this could be done, there is no reason why the recognition of the rights of forest dwelling communities should be barred; a more recent cut-off date makes verification of claims easier, with less room for disputes.

- Greater powers have been recommended for the Gram Sabhas, for the verification OF claims.

- Regarding the issue of National Parks and Sanctuaries, it has been recommended that instead of endorsing the unscientific and undemocratic concept of "core areas", the concept of "critical wildlife habitats" should be introduced. It is recommended that decisions on the management of protected areas require a site-specific open process with the involvement of all stakeholders.

- It has been recommended that there should be a provision for the developmental needs of forest dwelling communities such as schools, hospitals etc.

- Rehabilitation has been recommended for all primarily forest-dependent forest dwellers who prove to be ineligible for rights under this Act.

Under the heading of General Recommendations, the Committee has recommended that the Act be placed in Schedule IX of the Constitution. This is because this Act is intended to be an urgent measure intended to address a historical injustice done to a large section of some of the weakest and most marginal communities of our society, and in particular, the Schedueld Tribes. It is in clear fulfillment of the Directive Principles stated in Articles 39 (a), 39 (b) and 46 of the Constitution, and it contributes to the fulfillment of the State's mandate under Article 48A. Any further delay on the grounds of litigation or court challenge will be a further injustice to Scheduled Tribes and forest dwellers and will result in evictions, contrary to the government's commitment.

Under the heading of General Recommendations, the Committee has also recommended that either all non-Scheduled areas covered by this Act should be placed under the same blanket of protection from acquisition as Schedule V Areas through a Constitutional amendment, or at least that in the eventuality of any proposal to acquire such land, a set of principles related to resettlement and rehabilitation which have been spelt out, should be adhered to.

In addition to the above points, there are a number of other changes that have been recommended, that would further clarify, streamline and achieve the purposes of the proposed Act.

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