The Indian Forest Rights Act 2006: Commoning Enclosures?

"This paper considers the process of 'commoning enclosures', how tenure of enclosed forest land is reformed, taking the example of the Indian Forest Rights Act 2006. The issue of forest rights in India, affecting forested landscapes that cover about 23% of the country and the livelihoods of at least 200 million, have been highly conflictual for at least a century and a half, and intensifying in recent years. The process of formal state enclosure of forests, from the late 19th Century on, criminalised the normal livelihood activities of millions of local forest-dependent people. In recent years the Forest Departments sought to complete this process through the eviction of what had become, in the eyes of the law, 'encroachers'. This finally united and mobilised movements working with forest users across the country to action. "Despite severe opposition the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (or simply 'Forest Rights Act' was passed in December 2006 and came into force in January 1st 2008 with notification of the rules. It provides for restitution of deprived forest rights across India, including both individual rights to cultivated land in forested landscapes and collective rights to control manage and use forests as common property. The livelihoods of perhaps 100 million of the poorest of the poor stand to improve if implementation can succeed. "Based on currently ongoing primary research in three eastern states (West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh), this paper assesses this reform process and how implementation is really happening on the ground. We are establishing baseline information about pre-existing legal rights or the lack of them, and the processes through which these may be changing. "We have found that so far there has been only spasmodic state action, often inconsistent with both the spirit and letter of the Act, and thus rights are yet to be secured on the ground. Only where committed NGOs and movements are active is awareness of the issues and process becoming clarified and the process gathering momentum."
forests, property rights, legal systems, IASC