The Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to grant hereditary rights over the forest land to the traditional forest dwellers.

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 for livelihood. They will also be allowed to collect, use and dispose minor forest produce.

Chief Secretary, BVR Subrahmanyam on Wednesday chaired a meeting to review 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 31 October, 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 January 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 January. Similarly, the District Level Committees shall consider and approve the record and grant forest rights by 1 March 2021.

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.