Tribal forest and its implementation in Manipur

* K Daimai

INTRODUCTION : The State of Manipur can be broadly divided into two regions—Hill and Plain and its physical area is 22.327 sq. km. The hill regions measure 90% of the total physical area and is exclusively inhibited by tribals. The State is consist of (nine) districts of which 5 (five) are hill Districts and four are Revenue Districts in plain region. Every village in hill districts is all settled villages and paying Hill House Tax to the Government.

The tribal people claim absolute authority over the land they occupy. They considered that the lands which include forest land are inhibited from their forefathers. So it is their inhabited property. Tribal people have their own system of land holding based on customary and traditional practices. Interference to their land is therefore, opposed with tooth and nail. Every tribal village was independent republic without outside interference.

In the light of the above stated position, the scope of implementation of the Schedule Tribes & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in the tribal areas of Manipur is rather limited. The term Forest Dwellers can not appropriately be applied to the tribal people of Manipur for their settlement had already been recognised as settled villages.

Implementation of the Act in Manipur

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was enacted by the Parliament with the sole objectives to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land by forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who had been residing in such forest for generations but whose rights could not be recorded.

The implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in Manipur is a non starter and an uphill task for the Forest Department of the State to initiate.

The Forest Rights of the Scheduled Tribes enshrined in Section 3 (1) (a) to (m) and 4 (2) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) are yet to be implemented in letter and spirit particularly in areas where the scheduled tribe forest dwellers have settled in Reserved Forests more than fifty to hundred years, particularly in the Reserved Forests under the jurisdiction of MLR & LR Act of 1960, very old scheduled tribe settlements within the Reserved Forests have not been recognized and revenue pattas have not been issued in spite of the protection given under Section 3(1) of the Act.

Though the much awaited Act has been enacted, the Forest Department has not been able to act as most of the Forest in the hill areas whether Reserved Forest of unclassified forests are virtually under the ownership of the tribal Chief or tribal community.

Settlement of scheduled tribe communities in the national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and Reserved Forest both in the valley where there is land law and in the hill areas where there is no land law are of two types, (i) original and (ii) encroaches. Forest Department which is the implementing agency has not taken any step to regularize the two types of settlements as per provision of the Scheduled Tribe and Other Forest Dwellers (Forest Rights Recognition) Act, 2006.

Suggestions: The North East Region of India has been declared as one of the Mega Bio-diversity Hotspot of the planet earth. The vegetations found in this region are fragile and most of them are endemic to the region. The region is inhabited by more than 200 ethnic groups with varied culture and tradition. The constitution has provide protection to these myriad tribal groups by granting Federal States and autonomy to many regional tribal groups for protection of their lands, culture, customs, tradition and their identities under 6th Schedule of the constitution.

The survival and development of these scheduled tribe groups depends on effective management of such natural heritage which they inherited from their forefathers and whose ownership is vested in them. Our earth today is facing the biggest threat to its survival due to global warming and climate change. To check global warming the world is actively framing policies and strategies to protect and conserve the environment particularly the forests by bringing more areas under the Protected Area Network. However, in order to make the campaign a success, the involvement and active participation of all the ethnic groups is imperative. For this purpose the following suggestion may be suggested.

(1) Consent and approval of the concern village council/authority should be obtained before any proposal is made for any development project in tribal areas. Because in the name of development projects, original settlers had been displaced and made encroachers on their own lands.

(2) Settlement of rights of the scheduled tribe in the Protected Area Network, Reserved Forest and Protected forest as enshrined in the Act 2006 should be initiated and completed within fixed time frame.

(3) Government of India should seriously explore methods as to how more ecologically important areas can be brought under the Protection Area Network without affecting the ownership rights of the scheduled tribes over their land and its resources.

(4) Reserved and Protected Forest declared without the knowledge and consent of the scheduled tribe land owners may be returned to the rightful owners.

(5) Acquisition of land for setting up national parks and sanctuaries in tribal owned areas or unclassified forest is very complicated. Acquisition is also seen as land alienation from the tribal and it creates land encroachment problems. Therefore, land acquisitions for protection and conservation have been found counter productive.

(6) Scheduled tribe communities who have set up villages in Reserved Forest areas on or before 31st Dec. 2005, or who had been staying in the said Reserved Forest for more than 50 years but pending regularization and where land distribution and allotment at the rate of 4 ha is not applicable, respective plots or homestead lands of each family should be converted into Revenue pattas.

(7) Ministry of Tribal Affairs must step up consultation meetings with the concerned state Forest Department to understand the inherent problems of each state.(8) Allotment of land to the Scheduled tribe families as per the Forest Rights Act, 2006 should not be initiated in the hill areas whether it is Revenue or unclassified forest as enforcement would go against the customary land holding system of the tribe.(9) Forest Department must train its officers to have broad understanding of the customary practices of various tribal groups.

* K Daimai (Retired Joint Director of Tribal Research) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 14, 2011.

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