Changes in Forest Rights Act to help tribals



New Delhi: Aiming to enhance livelihood prospects for tribals by providing them access to forest products, government has notified a series of changes in the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and has asked the state governments to implement them in a time bound and proper manner.

"There were various shortcomings in the FRA and the rules were rather tardy and incompatible. We have been studying it and a small committee was formed to look into it. Based on its the recommendations we have finalised these rules," Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo told reporters here.

The FRA was first framed in 2006 and its implementation was initiated in 2008.

Asked about the nature of new rules, he said, "These will undo the years of injustice done to the tribals as no survey was conducted of the forest after 1927 during the British regime."

The Minister said that bamboo- an important forest product- has now been notified as Minor Forest Product (MFP).

"Now forest dwellers can commercially use bamboo to earn their livelihood. We have also allowed transportation of bamboo through any suitable mode," he said.

As per the old rules, villagers were not allowed to commercially exploit bamboo without permission of the forest department and its transportation was allowed either through bicycle or bullock cart.

"But there is no way to transport bamboo like this. So now all MFP can be transported by any appropriate mode of transport. These restrictions have been removed now," Deo added.

He also mentioned that forest departments of various states had so far classified bamboo as tree of timber product.

"They were quoting the 1927 Indian Forest Act which classified bamboo as a tree. They were trying to push the idea that bamboo is a tree or timber and after it falls it becomes bamboo. I think that is the most obnoxious way to put it," he said, adding that botanically bamboo is classified as grass.

On the proposed commission to fix Minimum Support Price (MSP) for forest produces, Deo said, "The proposal is with the Planning Commission and Finance Ministry. It was necessary to streamline the FRA before deciding MSP for the Minor Forest Produces."

He also informed that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has given its nod to start a Post Matric Scholarship Schemes for the tribals.

"We were giving Post-Matric Scholarships. But the Social Justice and Empowerment (SJ&E) Ministry is already giving this to SC students. This will be effective from first July of this year and 16 lakh tribal students studying in class 9 and 10th will be benefited," he said.

Deo, who also holds the portfolio of Union Ministry for Panchayati Raj, said that Rural Development Ministry has agreed to share its annual budget with it.

"Annual budget for Panchayati Raj is Rs 350 crore, you can imagine the situation. Now, a lot of the programs of Rural Development Ministry are common so it has agreed to transfer one per cent of its budget, almost Rs 1000 crore, which will be used to strengthen the Panchayati infrastructure," he said.

He also said that assistance will be provided to state governments for strengthening panchayat infrastructure.

On issues of relocating tribals from areas where tiger reserves are located, Deo said, "I have talked to my colleague the Forest and Environment Minister (Jayanthi Natarajan) and she totally agrees with our point of view."

Tribal Affairs Ministry is opposed to the idea of relocating forest dwellers from tiger reserves.

PTI