Though the symbiotic relationship between forests and forest-dwelling communities found recognition in the National Forest Policy, 1988, the need to recognise Adivasi communities in the protection, regeneration and development of forests still prevailed. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 was enacted to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens and balance the right to environment with their right to life and livelihood. The Act consists of 6 Chapters and 14 Sections. The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Amendment Rules, were later published in 2012.
While Chapter 1 defines the terms used in the Act setting the purview, Chapter 2 (Section 3) lists the forest rights of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers as follows:
- Right to hold and live in the forest land for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood;
- Community rights such as nistar (which refers to forest produce allowed to villagers free or on concessional rates, meant for domestic consumption and not for barter or sale), including those used in earlier (obsolete) regimes;
- Right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce;
- Other community rights of uses or entitlements;
- Rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities;
- Rights in or over disputes lands;
- Rights for conversion of pattas or leases or grants to titles;
- Rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, un-surveyed villages and other villages in forests into revenue villages;
- Rights to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use;
- Rights which are recognised as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State;
- Right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity;
- Any other traditional right which are not mentioned in clauses (a) to (k) but excluding the traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal;
- Right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to the 13th day of December, 2005.
It also gives power to the Central Government to provide for diversion of forest land for selected facilities, which involve felling of trees not exceeding 75 trees per hectare, provided the forest land to be diverted is less than one hectare and the clearance of such developmental projects is recommended by the Gram Sabha. Some of these selected facilities include schools, dispensary or hospital, anganwadis, fair price shops, electric and telecommunication lines, tanks and other minor water bodies, drinking water supply and pipelines, rain water harvesting structures, roads, etc.
Chapter 3 (Section 4) recognise, restore and vest the forest rights in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. It also lists the duties of holders of forest rights, including protection of the wild life, forest, biodiversity and adjoining catchments area, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas; preservation of the habitat of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers and ensuring that the decisions taken in the Gram Sabha to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are complied with.
Chapter 4 (Section 6) lists the authorities and procedures for conferring forest rights in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
Chapter 5 (Section 7 and 8) sets the penalties (extending to Rupees 1000) for offences by members or officers of authorities and Committees under this Act.
Chapter 6 (Section 9-14) lists other related rules, such as, protection of action taken in good faith by the Government and its officers, recognition of nodal agency, powers of the Government to issue directions and make rules, etc.