As Uttarakhand goes to Assembly polls in a single phase on February 14, activists are demanding political will for implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006.
For a state that has almost 65 per cent of its geographical area under forest, five scheduled tribes in remote hilly areas and other forest dwellers such as Van Gujjars, the implementation of Forest Rights Act has been a long pending issue.
“Gram Sabhas and forest panchayats will have a role in granting development projects. Their control over industries such as mining, tourism would not only improve local employment generation but would also prevent activities that damage the environment,” said Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha.
“To fulfil these dreams, we want our voters and candidates to show their full and solid political will to implement the Forest Rights Act and not turn it into a hollow promise. Implementation of the Forest Rights Act under a campaign by coordinating between all the departments and taking forward the Van Panchayat leadership and Van Panchayats should have full rights to protect and promote forests under this law,” the Morcha said.
The issue had been simmering for quite long. Uttarakhand has five scheduled tribes and then some forest dweller communities such as Van Gujjars, all totalling to approximately 24 lakh population. They have forest rights within the purview of forest rights. However, none of the 13 districts of the state are ‘tribal’ districts.
Members of these communities face regular problems with respect to non-timber forest produce (NTFP) and some even threat of eviction.
The Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha has put out a statement demanding “Forest Rights are the right to live with dignity, “Forest Rights are the right to development” and “Forest Rights are the right of environment.”
“By recognising the individual and community forest rights, the Van Gujjars and Van gram dwellers will get the right to their house, forest and land and they will be able to lead a dignified life. In hundreds of villages of Uttarakhand, it is necessary to implement the Forest Rights Act to get access to necessary things like schools, hospitals, electricity. It will also help forest panchayats and gram sabhas to find land for development works, and procure government allotted funds for development works,” the Morcha said.
With the recognition of Forest Rights, the Van Panchayats will manage the forests according to the needs of their society, such as fodder, forest produce, nutrition etc. and in the interest of biodiversity, the Morcha said, adding, “With community participation, there will be more effective disaster management in case of wildfire, human-animal conflict, landslides, etc.”