The Jammu and Kashmir government will implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which was not enforced in the Union Territory for the past 14 years, an official spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“It may be pointed out that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 provides for granting of rights to forest dwellers across the country,” the statement read. “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 31st October, 2019, hence, recognising the rights of forest dwelling communities for the first time in the Union Territory.”

On Wednesday, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam presided a meeting to review the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act and Rules.

Under the Act, members of the Scheduled Tribes dwelling in the forests along with other traditional residents will have the right over forest land for habitation or self-cultivation or livelihood. “...ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, and entitlement to seasonal resources among others,” the statement read. “However, the rights conferred under this Act shall be heritable but not alienable or transferrable.”

The Act also allows the use of upto one hectare of forest land for developing government facilities, including schools, minor water bodies, and hospitals, on the recommendation of a Gram Sabha. The law empowers holders of forest rights and Gram Sabhas to protect the wildlife, biodiversity, catchment areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas. It further ensures that the habitats of forest dwellers are preserved from “any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage”.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration plans to complete by January 15, 2021, the “survey of claimants” by the forest rights panels for assessing the nature and extent of rights claimed at the village-level. The sub-divisional committees were asked to complete the scrutiny procedure of claims and preparation of “record of forest rights” by January 31, 2021. Committees at the district-level shall consider and approve this by March 1, 2021.

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“The Chief Secretary impressed upon the Forest department to immediately constitute the 4-tier committees including-State Level Monitoring Committee, District Level Committee, Sub-Divisional Level Committee, and Forest Rights Committee; to implement the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 in J&K,” the statement read.

The forest department was also asked to come up with a suitable review mechanism along with monitoring formats for a routine evaluation of the procedure.

In February 2019, the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by wildlife groups, ordered the eviction of all forest dwellers in India, whose claims under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected. This number was as high as 1.89 million forest-dwelling families, according to a 2018 report of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The scale prompted the Centre to intervene, and the court stayed its order, asking states to disclose whether they had followed due process while rejecting the claims.

Documents subsequently filed by nine state governments showed that at least 1.3 million of the claims have been rejected without following the due process.

In October, a study of 26 protected areas of India showed that 13,445 families of mainly indigenous people were displaced between 1999 and 2019 because of the government’s wildlife policies. The forceful displacement has led to violent clashes between local communities, forest department and the police.