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Three UN Special rapporteurs raise their concern on draft Indian Forest Act

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
Special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples


In a report sent to the Government of India, three United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs, expressing "concerns" over the failure to ensure "adequate" implementation of the India Forest Rights Act (FRA), have regretted that the Government of India has not cared to reply their previous communications on this. They also highlight their concern of the propose amendment of India Forest Act 1927.

Prepared by Leilani Farha special rapporteur on adequate housing; Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, the report also raises "alarm" that the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act of 1927.

In their letter they mentions that a draft law proposing amendments to the 1927 India Forest Act would significantly increase the policing and discretionary powers of forest-officers against local communities. The proposed amendments provide for indemnity of forest-officers using fire arms to prevent any forest offence and specifically protects forest-officers against prosecution, unless they were previously sanctioned by the state government.

The amendments also propose that anyone believed to have attempted to contravene or abet the contravention of the law will be deemed to be in violation of the law. In addition, the amendments provide that any person in possession, custody or control of forest lands or forest produce shall be presumed guilty of encroachment until they can prove they are in lawful possession of the said forest land or forest produce.

In addition, this situation causes alarm when set in the wider context of the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act of 1927, which, if endorsed and adopted, would significantly increase the power and discretion vested in forest officials to govern areas declared as forest lands, and reinforce a trend of summary arrests and prosecution and eviction of forest dwellers.

We are concerned that such increased discretionary powers for forest officials would indeed represent a threat to individual’s right to physical integrity and further reduce any prospect for tribal communities to fully use and enjoy the ancestral lands they are rightfully entitled to.

The Forest Rights Act recognizes the role of tribal communities in maintaining the sustainable use, conserving the biodiversity and maintaining ecological balance in the forests, “thereby strengthening the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring livelihood and food security “.
The Act also acknowledges that “the forest rights on ancestral lands and their habitat were not adequately recognized in the consolidation of State forests during the colonial period as well as in independent India resulting in historical injustice to the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest wellers who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem”.

These statements, embedded in national law, reflect clear commitments of your Excellency’s government to the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples rights, especially those espoused in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

They mentiosn that "as we continue to monitor and evaluate the developments of this situation, it is our responsibility under the mandates provided to us by the Human Rights Council, to seek to clarify the allegations of human rights violations brought to my attention".

Full letter can be downloaded from here
https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24665

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