Forest Rights Acts vs Indian Forest Act: Conservation Or Conservatism?


Conservation and conservatism are concepts associated with two opposite ends of the political spectrum. Conservation must be inclusive and rooted in the principles of equity and sustainability. Yet we are seeing a global rise of conservative conservationists. Organisations like Wildlife First, Tiger Research and Conservation Trust (TRACT), and Nature Conservation Society (NCS) challenged the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2008, immediately when it came into force and can be categorised as elite conservative conservationist. Such organisations are complicit with big corporations which fund militarised and fenced conservation often leading to persecution and eviction of innocent tribals and forest dwellers from their own land. These competing conservationist ideologies often result in legislations which are contradictory.

Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, and Indian Forest Act, 1921, are products of two contradictory conservation ideologies. Indian Forest Act is a colonial law which sees the forest as a tradable commodity and seeks to exercise maximum control over transit of forest-produce and the right to collect duty leviable on timber and other forest produce. It also allows state governments to divert forest land to other uses according to its need while recklessly ignoring the rights of millions of tribals and forest dwellers. While the objective of FRA is to evolve an inclusive system of conservation by recognising the rights of communities dependent on forests and treating them as true conservationist and managers of the community forest resource. Regulatory bodies under these two statutes have a conflict of interest which has led to the prosecution of millions of tribals and forest dwellers.