Political representation of STs can lead to improved forest cover: Study

Context
According to new researchincreasing the formal political representation of Scheduled Tribes (ST) enhances the average tree canopy and reduced the rate of deforestation.  Key findings of the Study:
  • The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) and other rules that recognise the Scheduled Areas where STs live plays a crucial role in protecting their rights and forest conservation.
  • However, formally the Panchayati Raj institutions in non-scheduled areas that mandated ST representation did not have any impact on conservation.
  • The implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA), 2006, did not have a visible impact beyond the benefits of PESA.
  • According to study, several interventions under PESA alone have shown significant results.
How Political representation of Tribes can help to improve livelihood?
  • With PESA, the ST communities could pursue better economic interests and translate them into better forest conservation.
  • Political representation can enable them to push away deforestation spearheaded by industrialists and collect and sell non-timber forest products, thereby improving the overall health of forest.
  • Enhanced representation of ST communities also helps them to oppose mining and other large-scale commercial projects.
  • Before PESA was implemented, areas near mines experienced high deforestation rates; introducing PESA led to a greater reduction in deforestation in such villages.
Need for significant steps:
  • Nearly 66 per cent of the total population in India resides in rural areas, of which 275 million depend on forest resources for livelihood.
  • Governments in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal allows corporate houses to mine, build dams, establish steel plants, aluminium refineries and sponge-iron factories and displace tribal people.
How Tribals get affected by lack of representation?
  • The communities often take steps to protect their livelihood from human activities that lead to decreased vegetation cover and composition, increased deforestation and forest fragmentation.
  • Such activities make the inhabitants suffer from respiratory illnesses and poor employment opportunities.
  • On the other hand, the implementation of schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees 100 days of minimum work and mandates the inclusion of ST communities, improved their income and helped in the development of assets such as rural roads and other local public goods.
Existing laws for Conservation of Forest rights:
  • The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act: As per the provisions of the Act;
    • The Gram Sabha is empowered to initiate the process of determining the extent of forest rights that may be given to each eligible individual or family.
    • It would then pass a resolution to that effect and forward a copy to the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC).
    • The SDLC, which shall be constituted by the State Government, would examine the resolution passed by the Gram Sabha and prepare the record of forest rights.
    • It would then be forwarded to the District Level Committee (DLC) through the Sub-Divisional Officer for a final decision.
    • The DLC would be the final authority to approve the record of forest rights prepared by the SDLC.
    • If a person is not satisfied by the ruling of the Gram Sabha, he can file a petition to the SDLC who would consider and dispose of such petition.
    • If a person is not satisfied by the decision of the SDLC, he can petition to the DLC within 60 days of date of decision of the SDLC. The DLC’s decision would be final and binding.

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