The Forest Rights Act, 2006: Settling Land, Unsettling Conservationists
Antara Roy & Sroyon Mukherjee*
Volume 1 Issue 2 (2008)
After more than a year of high-pitched campaigning by rival lobbies of forest conservationists and tribal rights activists, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 came into force on December 31, 2007. The Act aims to provide a framework which recognizes and vests forest rights in forest-dwelling tribes, and to foster a new forest conservation regime which actively seeks the participation of forest-dwelling communities in conservation efforts. Tribals of India have been residing in forest land for generations, cultivating and collecting forest produce. However, their traditional rights have hitherto not been adequately recognized and recorded. The Act thus marks a radical departure from existing forest legislations. The Act has been lauded and reviled in almost equal measure. Tribal rights activists perceive it as an instrument for correcting historical injustices. Environmentalists on the other hand project severe ecological fallouts. They see the law as a land distribution scheme which will lead to rampant deforestation. The discourse on this subject has, therefore, been predominantly adversarial in nature. We do not see tribal welfare and forest conservation as either separate or opposing goals. Having discussed the corrective justice dimension of the Act, we have advanced rebuttals of the principal claims of the opponents of the Act. Finally, we have established that ownership rights over a certain property automatically create a certain incentive to protect that property.