Kamal Nayan Choubey
Forest in India has been contested space due to many reasons. For state it has been a source of natural resources for the ‘national development’ of the country; for conservationist it has been a space for already extinguishing wild life; and for tribal population it has been a source of livelihood and an integral part of their cultural ethos. In post-liberalization era the Indian state, and its representative organ in forest areas the Forest Department (FD), has worked as a facilitator for many corporate houses in the exploitation of natural resources. The FD gets its all power from the Indian Forest Act of 1927 and laws like Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 and Forest Conservation Act of 1980 has also given many extraordinary powers to it. The forest dwelling communities, however, had mobilized themselves and got success in the enactment of some of the progressive laws for tribal and forest areas. The Pnachayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (or PESA) and The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (or FRA) are two such important legislations enacted by the Indian Parliament in post-1990 era. These laws are ‘progressive’ because through their mobilization tribal organizations got success in including some positive elements for tribal and other forest dwelling communities in these laws. The scope of the FRA is wider than the PESA because it covers the forest areas of the whole country.
Envisaging forest as commons imply that it has been a space used by forest dwelling communities for their day to day livelihood needs and cultural practices. This space, however, has been controlled by the state from the colonial period. The paper wishes to present an analytical study of the historical factors that turned this commons in a contested space and the present day legal regime, which has given forest dwelling communities and opportunity to reclaim this space. This paper focuses on the community rights of forest dwelling communities in the National Parks (NPs), particularly Dudhwa National Park situated in the Lakhimpur Khiri district of Uttar Pradesh. The creation of an inviolable space for the protection of wild life has been the basic purpose behind declaring a forest area as National Parks. The NPs are administered by the provisions of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, which restricts the rights of forest dwelling communities within the NPs. The FRA, however, gives forest dwelling communities different rights, including rights over forest resources in all forest areas including the NPs. This paper seeks to present an analytical ethnographic study of the struggle of Tharu tribal women for the rights over forest resources in Dudhwa National Park and the contestation between them and Park administration on this issue. In this sense it is pertinent to ask that how far the FRA has resolved the complexities related to the rights of local communities and wild life and how it excludes many forest dwelling communities from the legal framework of rights created by it? How the existence of ‘legal pluralism’ has made an impact on the rights of local communities in forest commons, particularly in the NPs? Could it be claimed that forest dwelling communities are able to enjoy citizenship rights given by constitution?
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