SRINAGAR: The Chief Secretary, B V R Subrahmanyam on Wednesday chaired a meeting to review the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, and Rules in Jammu and Kashmir which have been made applicable post-enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019. Work on this had already begun by the departments of Tribal Affairs, and Forest, Ecology and Environment in October 2020.
It may be pointed out that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country. This central Act was, however, not applicable or implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 14 years. It became applicable to J&K only after October 31, 2019, hence, recognising the rights of forest dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory.
It was decided that the ‘survey of claimants’ by the Forest Rights Committees for assessing the nature and extent of rights being claimed at village level be completed by 15-01-2021, for their further submission to the respective Sub-Divisional Committees. The Sub-Divisional Committees shall complete the process of scrutiny of claims and preparation of ‘record of forest rights’ by or before 31-01-2021. Similarly, the District Level Committees shall consider and approve the record and grant forest rights by 01-03-2021.
It was informed that under the Act, the forest-dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers will be provided with the rights over forest land for the purpose of habitation or self-cultivation/livelihood; ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, and entitlement to seasonal resources among others. However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferrable.
The Act further provides that on the recommendation of Gram Sabha, forest land up to one hectare can be diverted for the purpose of developing government facilities including schools, hospitals, minor water bodies, rainwater harvesting structures, minor irrigation canals, vocational training centres, non-conventional sources of energy, roads etc.
The Act also empowers the holders of forest rights, and Gram Sabhas to protect the wild life, forest, biodiversity, catchment areas, water sources and other ecologically sensitive areas, besides ensuring that the habitat of forest-dwelling STs and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage.
The Chief Secretary impressed upon the Forest department to immediately constitute the 4-tier committees including- State Level Monitoring Committee, District Level Committee, Sub-Divisional Level Committee, and Forest Rights Committee; to implement the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 in J&K.
For a periodic review of the process and procedures associated with the Forest Rights Act and Rules, the Forest department was asked to devise a suitable review mechanism along with monitoring formats.
Commissioner Secretary Forest, Ecology and Environment, and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests were present in the meeting.