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VASUNDHARA - Democratising Natural Resources Governance

Laws and Policies :

The Rights of Forest Dependent Communities operate in the context of several Acts, Rules, Policies, Guidelines. Many of these are progressive in nature and empower and enable people to assert and enjoy their rights. However very often lack of proper understanding and appreciation of such Acts/Rules/ Guidelines restricts the ability of communities to get the intended benefits. Vasundhara’s work includes capacity building of communities and other stakeholders towards interpreting and using these laws in a people-friendly and conservation-friendly manner. Following are some of the key laws and policies that relate to our work:

The Indian Forest Act, 1927
This act defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest, or a Village Forest. The state government can assign to any village community the rights over a part of a Reserve Forest; this part is known as a Village Forest. These rights allow the villagers to fulfill their bona fide needs, and it is their duty to protect and improve the forest. However, the ownership remains with the state government, which is the main decision-making and regulatory authority. . 

Panchayats (Extension To The Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996
This act confers the ownership and decision-making rights over non timber forest products (NTFPs) to local institutions. It emphasises a more decentralised system of governance to panchayats and gram sabhas in Scheduled Areas.
National Forest Policy, 1988
India is one of the few countries with a National Forest Policy, which has been in place since 1894. It was revised in 1952 and again in 1988. The main plank of the forest policy is protection, conservation, and development of forests. The 1988 revision called for the people’s active involvement in these efforts, as well as in managing the forests. It also stipulated meeting the basic needs of the people, especially fuel wood, fodder, and small timber for the rural and tribal population.  
The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002
This 2002 amendment of this act, originally made into law in 1972, called for two new categories of Protected Areas: Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves. The 1972 law did not acknowledge the history of communities living in and around Protected Areas, and therefore did not allow their participation in conservation initiatives. A Conservation Reserve – a biodiversity-rich area – calls for the formation of an advisory committee, called the Conservation Reserve Management Committee (CRMC); its role is to provide inputs to the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW) on conservation measures. The CRMC includes representatives from the local village panchayat. However, the CWW remains the chief decision making authority, who could consult the CRMC in management of this area.
Biological Diversity Act, 2002
This act emphasises the participation of local communities in the conservation and use of biodiversity. Under Section 37 of this act the state government, in consultation with local governing bodies, can declare areas of biodiversity importance as Biodiversity Heritage Sites, which could be used by communities involved in biodiversity conservation. However, clear guidelines for this category are still awaited.
The Scheduled Tribes And Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 empowers the government to declare any area to be a Reserved Forest, Protected Forest, or Village Forest. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 allows any area to be constituted as a “protected area,” namely a national park, wildlife sanctuary, tiger reserve, or community conservation area. Under these laws, the rights of people living in or depending on the area to be declared as a forest or protected area are to be “settled” by a “forest settlement officer.” The officer is to enquire into the claims of people to land, and in the case of claims found to be valid, to allow them to continue or to extinguish them by paying compensation. In Orissa, all the hilly tracts were declared government forests without this process having taken place, and around 40% of the government forests have been deemed Reserved Forests. Those whose rights are not recorded during the settlement process are susceptible to eviction at any time.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – also known as the Forest Rights Act – describes it as a law intended to correct the "historical injustice" done to forest dwellers by the failure to recognise their rights. In addition to the rights of communities over land and forest produces, it also includes provisions for making conservation more effective and transparent, rights over related traditional knowledge, and intellectual property rights. For the first time in the legal history of India, it acknowledges traditional rights of forest dwellers to conserve and nurture their forest resource.
Forest (Conservation) Act 1980
The Environment Protection Act 1986
Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, 2013
The Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribea (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015
Right to Information Act, 2005
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005

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