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This article has been written by Diya Banerjee, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article discusses the difference and relation between the nearly century-old Indian Forest Act and the recently enacted 14-year-old Forest Rights Act along with the conflicts they present.


Since the time we were children, we have been writing about the importance of forests and greenery, the preservation and conservation of natural resources for sustainable development. It is without a doubt necessary for forest and wildlife protection to be taken seriously but in the current times where every government is focussing on the capitalistic aspect of national growth, are there any different routes and options available to maintain the stability or even enhance the present-day conditions of the forests? 

Considering the Indian scenario, for now, the focus of the Indian government is on privatisation and equipping the Indian industries to meet the standards of English and American industries and these nations have some of the finest industrial input and output. To cater to the need to come up at par with such foreign industries, the Indian industries have to expand their infrastructure to accommodate larger amounts of inputs and to produce more output. What cannot be forgotten is that the Indian economy was basically an agrarian economy and this shift of the foundations is putting the Indian forests and forest dwellers under tremendous stress to leave everything and move away.

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Such economic needs have led to growing tensions between the government forest officials and the tribes who benefit from forest-based activities. These tensions have led to open agitation between the two groups, making it into the headlines since early 2018. The legal angle to this conflict lies with the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
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Value of Forests and related activities in India

India is still a developing country with a significant population depending on forests for their sustenance. The contribution of forests in the economy of the country is 1.7 per cent and it has continued to fulfil the energy requirements of the industry through its abundance of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and energy, timber, raw materials for artisans. The minor green forest areas help to obtain flowers, fruits, vegetables and other kinds of forest products which can be sold for direct consumption. We cannot forget how forests are important in maintaining the temperatures on Earth, helping to slow down the effects of climate change and controlling the carbon emissions in society. However, since the 1990s, there has been a spike in the deforestation rate, globally quite low but for India, it was a worrisome issue. After 2010, the deforestation rate decreased but the cases of poaching increased, upsetting the ecological balance, which had an indirect effect on the Indian economy because the income generated through forest activities accounts for the impact of the cycle of living creatures in the forests. And this value of forest resources is best understood by the people directly linked to the forest activities. The productivity of the forests is not quite high due to reasons like disorganization in categorizing forests, slow transportation methods, lack of commercial forests and non-identification of the potential of remote and scattered forests but their benefits without an iota of doubt remain invaluable and unquestionable. 

Direct benefits

  • While the estimated contribution of forests is 1.7 per cent, experts argue that considering other indirect forest products, the contribution count goes up to nearly 3.0 per cent.
  • The forests provide fodder for about 180 million cattle, 58 million buffaloes and 120 million other livestock. 
  • Moreover, forests are a source of employing nearly 40 per cent of the Indian population- nearly 15 lakh are employed daily and 38 lakhs are made up of the tribal communities engaging in economic activities, essentially for sustenance.
  • They have abundant amounts of commercially valuable plants which provide essential oils, acids and drugs.

Indirect benefits

  • Maintain the atmospheric moisture and cool.
  • Regulate water supply and act as a deterrent to violent floods.
  • Defend from soil erosions and landslides.
  • Home for various species of fauna and flora, allowing for well-planned sanctuaries and national parks.
  • Thick forest cover acts as a defence line against aerial attacks and cover for soldiers travelling through there.

All you need to know about the Forest Rights Act of 2006

We all know how the Britishers discriminated against the Indians in general but the discrimination was worst towards the tribal communities who had violent reactions to the colonial rules on acquiring forest lands for building and expanding factories and official buildings. And as an act to mitigate the tensions and losses the tribal communities have faced, which had continued to escalate even after India’s independence and through the early 2000s, the Indian Parliament enacted the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. This Act is more commonly known as the Forest Rights Act, the Tribal Rights Act, the Tribal bill and the Tribal Land Act. This Act was seen as a relief to injustice the tribes had been subjected to for decades. 

Indian forests are governed under two important laws: the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. These laws require a “forest settlement officer” to manage and “settle” the issues of the tribal communities. These issues are mostly the officer inquiring about the land claims and forest produce of the forest dwellers. If these claims are found to be valid, they are allowed to remain and continue living and utilising the forest resources, while otherwise they are evicted with compensation for the loss. About 83 per cent of forest dwellers were evicted from their lands because either their claims “failed” or their rights were not recorded during the settlement period. The only way their losses are brought down to the minimum is through illegal acts like regular bribery, sexual harassment, extortion or exploitation. 

The Forests Rights Act, 2006 was enacted as a means to combat the authoritative take of forest officers on the livelihood of tribes as well as to recognise the rights of the forest dwellers. 

Rights recognised under the Act

  • Title rights: Ownership and title rights over one’s land and property, the condition being that the land here is the land which is actually being used for living and cultivation, the maximum area being 4 hectares of land.
  • User rights: It is an extension of the ownership rights, along with rights to use and utilise the minor forest produce like fruits, flowers, etc. and for grazing and alike. 
  • Rights for development and relief: This is applicable when one has been illegally evicted from one’s land and to basic amenities, subject to legal forest restrictions.
  • Forest management rights: It is the right to protect the forest and wildlife through daily measures like planting trees, preventing illegal felling of trees and saving animals from mistreatment through illegal or wrong means as well as cooperating with the forest officers to maintain the general well-being of the environment. 

But has it really been non-controversial and smoothly implemented? Did it have no conflicts? The answer is ‘yes’, it has its fair share of problems and challenges, which are discussed down below. 

Relevant information of the Indian Forest Act of 1927

Dietrich Brandis had formulated the first Indian Forest Act in 1865 which extended the colonial power to the Indian forests. The 1865 Act paved way for the Indian Forest Act of 1978 which brought the forests completely under the control of the colonial rule and put heavy restrictions upon the tribal communities and other forest dwellers from using it in traditional manners. The Act gave the British the power to label any land covered with trees as a ‘forest’ and manage it accordingly, especially for their needs for wood to develop the railways. All the trees in the forest declared under the Act made them the property of the British. 

The Indian Forest Act of 1927 came after repealing the 1878 Act for the purpose of consolidating the forest laws and such related laws, transit of forest products, defining the forest offences, the punishment for such offences and the taxes applicable on forest products like timber. The punishment included imprisonment extending to one year or a fine of one thousand rupees or with both. In other words, the 1927 Act was much more defined. The key features and elements of the Act are that it has defined the reserved forests, village forests and the protected forests, a clean division that the Indian government still discharges. 

  • Reserved forests are the areas where a complete ban is imposed on any activities like grazing, pasturing or hunting. It is imposed on lands where the trees are of extreme value due to their rare and slow growth.
  • Protected forests are the areas which are converted into sanctuaries and national parks to protect the wildlife in that area from any kind of human intervention.
  • Village forests are the area where the tribal communities can set-up their settlement areas and carry out the activities pertaining to cultivation, cattle and hunting. It is a friendly relationship with the forests and they also help the forest rangers in cases of searching for a wounded animal and so. 

Under this Act, the forest officers manage who remains and who has to be evicted from the village forests and the eviction is done in the same manner as prescribed under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.  

Linking the 2006 Act and the 1927 Act: conflicts and differences 

The 2006 Act (also called the FRA) and the 1927 Act (also called the IFA) have been known for locking heads on various issues, often contradictory in nature. In 2008, organisations like the Wildlife First, Tiger Research And Conservation Trust (TRACT) and Nature Conservation Society (NCS) had challenged the FRA as soon as it was implemented by the Parliament. These organisations are complicit with big organizations which fund military activities in the forests and cause the eviction and displacement of many innocents who depend on the forest for their survival. 

The FRA and the IFA are formulated on two completely different and opposing ideologies, the former representing the traditional rights of the tribals on the forests and the latter on the commercial value of the forest and authority of the forest officers over the tribes. The reason why such contrasting legislations are passed is because of the ideology of ‘power over the poor’ which somehow tips off the balance of actually bringing relief to the forest dwellers while still continuing with the commercial activities. If you look at it, the slow implementation of the FRA has been because of the rigidity with which the IFA is being upheld all over the place. 

Reasons for conflicts

  • The FRA confers not only ownership and title rights on the land owned by the tribes but also aims to protect their traditional rights, which negates the authority the IFA had granted the officers to manage all the rules of their livelihood.
  • The FRA also empowers the Gram Sabhas to settle the matters related to land claims. This has reduced the absolute power of the forest officers and made the Gram Sabhas a quasi-judicial body because no claims of the forest dwellers can be settled without notifying them and their participation.
  • All this hue and cry related to the FRA is because, for the first time in history, the power is being shifted from the big corporations and bureaucracies to the forest dwellers. 
  • However, to combat the ‘unlawful encroaching’ of the forest dwellers in the ‘government forests’, the Indian Government had come up with a Draft National Forest Policy 2018 to ease the business of commercial timber. This has been met with a lot of criticism because this would not only lead to diminishing the forest covers but also negatively impact the already pitiful state in which the forest dwellers have been living till now.

In a nutshell, even after legal measures were taken to bring the forest dwellers to justice, corporate favouritism and commercial industries seem to be overpowering the need to focus on the environmental well-being and basic human rights.


The Indian government has been known for not considering and being insensitive to the plight of the forest dwellers and as if adding salt to the wound, has rather continued to focus only on one side of the coin, that is, the capitalistic approach toward growth. The insensitivity extends to the lack of measures implemented to protect the forests, let alone the forest dwellers. What’s more worrying for the environmental activists, is the poor implementation of the Forests Rights Act, 2006 and the continuing cases of displacing the tribes living in the forests. It is also a cause of worry because the sudden halt in the cycle of forest resources being utilised tends to upset the ecological balance, initially very slightly but its effects will be felt when it’s too late. 

In a nutshell, there has been a continuous attempt to undermine the rights and freedom of tribal communities. Environmental activists and advocates for the forest dwellers’ rights are silenced for being overdramatic and against the national growth of the country. But, they forget that national growth includes even the marginalised into the process. The increasing thrust on privatisation, industrialization and commercial exploitation of natural resources has made the message clear that the statutory bodies created under the Acts are only there to regulate the activities and not manage the entire forest. The biggest stakeholders are the forest dwellers and they are also the right-holders. It is high time that industrialists, investors and the government stops making them out to be the enemy when it is them who have been wrongfully deprived.


  1. Azra, Biquees. (2012). Environment and Forest Management in India. Department of Economics, Aligarh Muslim University. 
  2. Singh, Dhanda. (2003). Status, Trends and Demand for Forest Products in India. XII World Forestry Congress, Quebec City, Canada. 
  3. Guha, R. (1983). Forestry in British and Post-British India: A Historical Analysis. Economic and Political Weekly, 18(45/46), 1940-1947.

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