Forest Rights and Communities

This article by @kanchikohli looks at the ‘settlement’ of forest rights in India. It looks at whether the policies being advocated by the government in the name of forest rights are to pave the way to acquire more land or to recognize rights.

Was the government seriously interested in recognising rights and strengthening community-based forest governance, or was this meant to settle the record of rights so that the forest diversion processes would be less contested?

The process of recording of rights is not a simple one and has several practical complications. Discussions and mapping of community forest resources and rights are far more complex processes, which might require reconciliation of overlapping claims and inter-Gram Sabha as well as inter-departmental coordination.

But a deeper question pertains to the shrouded intent that drives the current government’s current FRA mission. Is the government merely trying to gain credible points by backing forest rights? Or is there a need to contextualise this within the larger issues of forest diversion? Does “campaign mode”, actually aid “settling” forest claims, and what does it mean for areas where people are living over proposed mines or collecting forest produce where an industrial railway line has been demarcated? Either way, are rights holders and claimants prepared for what lies ahead?

in the mid December 2015, the Constitutional Court of Indonesia has granted a petition to allow indigenous people to cultivate forests for their living in the 1999 Forestry Law, while it rejected requests to strengthen measures against deforestation. The judicial review had been filed by a group of farmers and environmental NGOs last year.

Constitutional Court maintained articles in the law that generally prohibit people from cutting down trees or herding in forests without special permits, but ordered the exclusion of indigenous people.

The propositions on Article 50 Paragraph 3e and 3i of Law No. 41/1999 on forestry are partly reasonable. Article 50 Paragraph 3e forbids the cutting down of trees or cultivating of forestry produces inside forest areas without permits from the authorities, while Paragraph 3f bans herding inside forest areas that are not designated specifically for that purpose by the authorities.

The restrictions imposed by the law should not apply to people who have lived from generation to generation in forest areas and sustain their lives by cutting trees for non-commercial purposes.

Therefore, indigenous people who met the description could not be criminalized, as doing so would create a paradox in which the government acknowledged indigenous people’s rights on the one hand, but at the same time threatened them with the Forestry Law.

The government should protect them instead. The requests filed by the plaintiffs in regard to the exemption of indigenous people are reasonable, as long as they apply to people who have been living from generation to generation inside forest areas, not around them, because ‘around forest areas’ is very different from people who live inside the forest.

Besides cultivating the forests, indigenous people were also allowed to herd inside forest areas without permits. The reasoning behind Paragraph 3e also applies to Paragraph 3i, as long as the herding is part of daily necessities for people who have lived from generation to generation inside forest areas.

For those reasons, the panel of judges said, both items violated the Constitution and thus were not legally binding unless indigenous people were exempted from them.

Mongabay reported a research that handing forests over to the people who live in them will help keep sea levels from continuing to rise, and it’s a course of action that more than pays for itself. Investing in forest rights for indigenous peoples and local communities can yield massive economic benefits in averted carbon dioxide emissions.

Indonesia would be part of it when this constitutional court executed consistently

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