MUMBAI • Indian officials have been slow to implement a landmark law giving rights to forests to indigenous people because they view it as a handicap to development projects spurring expansion in the fast-growing economy, a land rights campaigner has said.
The 2006 Forest Rights Act aims to improve the lives of impoverished tribes by recognising their right to inhabit and live off forests where their forefathers settled.
Under the law, at least 150 million people could have their rights recognised to a minimum of 40 million ha of forest land, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) estimated. But the group, which promotes access to land and natural resources, said barely 1.2 per cent of the area has been recorded in the last decade.
"There is a genuine misunderstanding among the political class that if you grant rights, it will be against development," said Mr Arvind Khare, an executive director at RRI in New Delhi. "There is fierce competition among the states for investment in infrastructure and mining. The law is seen as an impediment to this."
Few states have implemented the law fully and more than half of all claims for titles have been rejected, according to recent data from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Eleven of India's 29 states did not award any titles in the past year.
"There is very little awareness of the law among people and most claims are rejected on very flimsy grounds," Mr Khare said. "But allocating land to industry without settling rights will backfire."
Conflict over land rights has increased in India as land is sought for industrial use and development projects. Indigenous people hold legal titles to about 5 per cent of the land they have lived on.
"There is little pressure on the states to recognise forest rights. So we will continue to see big struggles, big conflicts over our forest lands," Mr Khare said.