The Paradox of Tribal Rights and Forest Conservation
Written By: Shalini Gupta
India is the most populated country in the world after China. India has the largest number of tribes in the world. Tribal peoples constitute 8.6 percent of India’s total population, about 104 million people according to the 2011 census (68 million people according to the 1991 census). In India, tribal people are generally known as Adivasis. These people generally live in forest areas. Forests are a region of cultural diversity and biodiversity. Also, there are various conflicts in the forests.
These conflicts arise from colonial times. Huge tracts of forests, inhabited by culturally diverse communities, were abrogated by the colonial rulers. Later, the independent Indian state displayed a paradox. Tribal people are found in different parts of India such as North-Eastern zones such as eastern Kashmir, eastern Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Assam, Uttar Pradesh; central zones such as Bihar, Bengal, Southern Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa; Southern zones such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and another zone comes from Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
In colonial times, the forests were protected but these days i.e. after Independence, forest areas are getting declined. In modern times, the forest areas are getting encroached legally or illegally for the building of industries, factories, or multi-national companies for liberalization, privatization, and globalization. The lives of tribal people are mainly dependent on these forests only. But the way forests are declining, the lives of tribal people are getting affected.
Forest plays a very important role in sustaining human life, especially for the tribal peoples. It is considered a natural resource not only for the people of India but for all the countries in the world. Tribal people of India have been recognized as the original inhabitants of nature. Not only the forests are getting encroached but there are various crimes committed against these tribes. There is various injustice which is being caused to these tribes. First of all, the mentality of the Indian people towards these people is not very good. There are being slaughtered and humiliated. They are deprived of their lands and pushed into forests and hills. The struggle of these people against environmental injustice is not purely a civil or environmental concern, but instead a complex interplay of self-determination, colonialism, racism, sovereignty, and environmental destruction.
After Independence, Constitution adopted the term ‘scheduled tribes’ to identify these tribal peoples. There are various rights that have been given to these people in our Indian Constitution. They have been provided special territorial concessions as per the Constitution of India.
Forests Rights Act 2006 has been enacted for the rights of the forest-dwelling tribal communities. Various rights which have been given in this Act are the right to hold forest land to live their life; right of ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce; Use of fishes and other product of water bodies, right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use, right to access to biodiversity; right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity, etc. As per the reports, out of the total claims under Forests Rights Act, 2006, only 1.6 percent gave community rights to these people.
As we know, forest conservation is very important to maintain our ecology system, to protect the trees as well as our biodiversity i.e. flora and fauna. The Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976 added Article 48A as the Directive Principles of State policy and Article 51A as the fundamental duty of every citizen. As per Article 48A, the state shall make laws to protect and improve the environment to safeguard the forests of our country. As per Article 51A(g), it is the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including the forests of our country.
Forest Conservation Act, 1980 has been enacted for the protection of forests. In Tarun Bharat Singh vs Union of India (1993), there was illegal mining going on in the reserved area of the Alwar District. The Court held that whenever an area is declared as a protected forest it comes within the purview of the Forest (Conservation) Act and now, the State government cannot carry on any non-forest activity in the reserved area without the prior permission of the Central government.
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 was passed with the aim to protect the forests by controlling the rates of deforestation. Forests Rights Act, 2006 was passed with the aim to protect the rights of tribal peoples. But still, forests are getting encroached. Strict laws have to be made for the protection of the rights of these people.
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