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Bill boost for all forest dwellers

New Delhi, May 23: The tribal bill will now benefit even the non-Scheduled Tribe forest dwellers. The revised bill also seeks to transfer the crucial powers needed for implementing the legislation from the forest department to local communities.

The revisions in “The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, have been proposed by the Joint Parliamentary Committee that submitted its report to Parliament today.

The bill seeks to regularise forest dwellers’ rights on the land they have been cultivating and forest produce.

“Since the bill seeks to undo historical injustice, the non-ST category people residing in forest should also be entitled for recognition and vesting of forest rights,” the JPC said while deciding to include a new definition in the bill to cover “other traditional forest dwellers”.

The Left parties and several civil society organisations have been agitating for, among other issues, the inclusion of the non-ST forest dwellers who are equally impoverished and vulnerable as the tribal communities.

The JPC also noted that in many cases these non-tribals were either settled or forced to live on the forest land by the government itself, in the past.

In addition to broadening the definition of the forest dwellers, the JPC also said the bill, once passed by Parliament, should be implemented directly by the gram sabha and “not by any other authority”.

In its original form, the bill had sought to confer the power to determine the forest rights on the “competent authority” ' which meant the forest department.

The JPC has suggested removing the “competent authority” clause, saying that “the authority determining the forest rights... shall be the gram sabha and not any other authority”.

The JPC noted that the gram sabha is the only open, transparent and democratic forum where decisions can be made and openly challenged.The JPC has also suggested extending the cut-off date for the recognition of rights from October 25, 1980 (as provided in the original bill) to December 13, 2005 (the date of introduction of the bill in the Lok Sabha).

“Such a cut-off date in the distant past will take away the right of many people who have migrated or been displaced or shifted from their original location during this period,” the JPC said.

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