Forest rights diluted

Activists welcome the notification of the forest rights act, but say it has been diluted. Forest dwellers will require documentary evidence to claim rights, which most do not have, says Shankar Gopalakrishnan, activist with the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a federation of tribal and forest dwellers' organizations. "Also, the rules do not specify distinct roles of forest departments and communities. Overlapping will lead to conflict,' says Ashish Kothari of Kalpvriksh. Comparison of the notified and draft rules makes the glitches clear.

Rule 2(b) provides self-cultivation and "production or sale of produce' referring "only' to agricultural produce, not minor forest produce. "This may deny rights to sell minor forest produce,' says Gopalakrishnan. The draft Rule 2(2) covered produce from forestland or forest-based uses, and stones and fuel wood.

Rule 3(1) recognises the gram sabha only within the panchayat system. This contradicts both the forest rights act and the draft rules. The act's Section 2(p) states that the gram sabha could be panchayat, forest village, un-surveyed village or a traditional village. Rule 3(2) of the draft defined gram sabha of villages of all kinds.

The rules provide no procedure for conversion of forest villages and unrecorded settlements into revenue villages for exercising the right to rehabilitation after forced displacement. Rule 18 of the draft laid down a conversion procedure.

Rule 6(a) refers to the communities' "duties' under Section 5 of the act but ignores their role in conservation of forests and wildlife, although Section 5 of the act empowers the forest-rights holders to protect wildlife, biodiversity and forest. Rule 24 in the draft rules provided participation of forest rights holders in the preparation of management plan for conservation.

Act provides for establishing scientific basis for identifying "critical wildlife habitat' for conservation. The current rules, however, make no mention of this provision.