Numerous people live in our forests.
These people derive resources for their livelihood from forests. Forests provide them minor forest produce like fruits, wood, medicines, spices etc.
Besides these, forests also provide them ground for grazing their cattle, water, and soil for shifting cultivation.
Forest people have their own culture and traditions.
They have their own society and laws.
They develop their crafts from the forest produce and sell them in markets. Some forest people travel up to cities to sell their forest produce like animal body parts, herbs, berries, fruits, and crafts work.
Under the Indian Forest Laws, vast areas of land have been declared as Forests. These areas of land may or may not be forests. However those tribals who cultivate these areas are declared to cultivate forest land.
The relationship of tribal people with forests is very close since time immemorial. These communities have been dependent on forests for their livelihood and existence.
The relationship between tribals and forests are mutually beneficial.
However the Forest Laws deprived tribals from their rights of using their land and forests and they had to suffer. This condition ignited a struggle between the Government and tribals across the country that continued for years- movement for Jal, Jangle, and Jamin (Movement for water, forests, and Land).
India’s Forest laws that created a long dispute between tribals and the Governments were- the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 empowers the Government to declare any area to be a Reserved Forest, Protected Forest or a Forest Village.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 allows the Government to declare any area as “Protected Area” such as National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary, Tiger Reserve, Community Conservation Area, or to launch any Conservation Project in the whole area.
Under these laws a Settlement Officer in an area has been appointed who has to settle the dispute between the Government and the tribal people who were declared occupying forest land.
The officer has to enquire into the claims of tribal people and to declare these claims as valid or not. For valid claims the officer has power to provide compensation and order to vacate the area or to allow continuing living in the area and using minor forest produce.
It has been proved through researches that the above mentioned incidents either did not take place or if done these were in seriously faulty manner.
It has been reported that in undivided Madhya Pradesh about 82.9 percent of the forest blocks had not been settled as of December 2003.
On the other hand most of the hilly tracts of Orissa were declared Reserve Forests without conducting any survey.
The tribals whose rights have not been recorded in the settlement process are vulnerable to eviction at any time. As per reports the “Legal Twilight Zone” often leads to harassment, eviction, and extortion of money or sexual molestations of tribals by persons “who wield absolute authority over forest dwellers’ livelihood and daily lives.”