FOREST RIGHTS vs. WILDLIFE PROTECTION - 22nd March 2013

PNS | NEW DELHI
The clash of interest between the Wildlife Protection Act and the Forest Rights Act (which attempts to protect tribal people living in forest) is, according to the members of the National Board For Wildlife (NBWL) causing increasing encroachments in the Protected Areas (PAs) across the country.

Raising the issue prominently in the 28th meeting of Standing Committee-NBWL, member Kishor Rithe pointed out that this is a “grey area” which certainly needs to be addressed as it is adversely impacting conservation in Protected Areas.

He pointed out that people first register the claims before gram sabha. Then they start girdling trees, setting fire, ploughing the forest land to make Forest Department unable to take any action by showing that “their claim is pending”.

According to the members, the circulars and guidelines of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) do not ensure compliance of the provisions of Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972 (Sec-20, 27(3), 29 and impose a bar on the accrual of fresh rights. In consequence damage is caused to the boundaries of PAs and wildlife habitats are destroyed.
MoTA has not ensured any mechanism to restore forest lands where claims have been finally rejected by the district administration. In Maharashtra alone, a large number of claims for “individual rights” has been rejected by District Level Committees (DLCs) chaired by district collectors.

To ensure the compliance of Sec-20, 27(3), 29 of WPA 1972, certain priority actions need to be taken. This includes issue of the notification of Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWH) under Sec 2 (b) of FRA 2006. Moreover, before considering any Individual Forest Rights (IFR) any claims regarding Community Forest Rights (CFR) must be settled to minimize encroachments.

However, the members noted that any genuine “individual right” that exists at the time of issuance of notification of sanctuary/National Park under Wildlife Protection Act 1972, must be granted.
In a letter to MoEF, Rithe has said that the states and Union Territories should report fresh encroachments to the SC-NBWL along with an action taken report.

The MoTA should ensure that implementation of FRA 2006 should not violate Sec-20, 27(3), 29 of Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Adding to the above, members pointed out that “wildlife corridors” connecting PAs are also badly affected due to a growing number of fresh encroachments and that immediate action needs to be taken.

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