Press Release: Arunachal Pradesh Government asked to reject recommendation of Forest Advisory Committee to establish Community Reserve on community forest land

May 31, 2023

Press Release

Dibang Multipurpose Project: Arunachal Pradesh Government asked to reject recommendation of Forest Advisory Committee to establish Community Reserve on community forest land

New Delhi: The Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC), which works for the welfare of the tribals/indigenous peoples in India, has written to Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Shri Pema Khandu and Chief Secretary Shri Dharmendra, IAS, to outrightly reject the recommendation of the Forest Advisory Committee to establish a Community Reserve on the right bank of the reservoir of the Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) as it would not be in the interest of the indigenous communities.

The National Hydropower Corporation (NHPC), a government of India enterprise, has undertaken to construct the 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project (DMP) on Dibang river in Lower Dibang Valley district. Earlier, in September 2014, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had recommended to the Government of Arunachal Pradesh that “the state Forest department should initiate the process to declare the right bank of the reservoir up to the ridgeline bordering the basin boundary between the Siang and Dibang up to Dri River to the north as a National Park for future preservation of ecological diversity in the River Basin.” The Stage-II/final approval of the Central Government for diversion of 4577.84 hectare of forest land was granted on March 12, 2020 based on the submission of the State government that it has directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) to initiate the process of declaration of the National Park.

However, vide letter dated August 17, 2022 to the FAC, the Arunachal Pradesh Government expressed its inability to provide the land for the National Park on the ground that “it has found that the legal status of the land in question is unclassed Forest/community Forests on which the local people are enjoying customary rights since time immemorial and therefore not will to part away with their land by declaration of National Park (sic).”

In view of the above objection placed by the State Government, the FAC on October 17, 2022 suggested that “the said land may be considered for declaration as Community Reserve or Conservation Reserve under Wildlife Protection Act 1972 in consultation with the local people to safeguard the rights of indigenous community and the Nodal officer may submit the report within three weeks to this Ministry for further perusal.”

As per media reports, the FAC has written twice (November 10, 2022 and a reminder on January 2, 2023) to the State Government to submit compliance report regarding declaration of Community reserve.

Now, the Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has cautioned the State Government against accepting the recommendation to establish a Community reserve.

“This is nothing sort of a ploy to grab the community forest land of the indigenous peoples. The concept of ‘Community reserve’ was first introduced in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002. The Community reserve is a ‘protected area’ under section 2(24A) of the WLP Act, 1972. Once community-owned forest land is declared as a ‘community reserve’, it comes under the purview of the forest laws and ownership is effectively transferred from the community to the Forest Department,” a press statement released by the Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) said.

As per India State of Forest Report 2021, 57.28% of the Recorded Forest Areas in the northeast are ‘unclassed’ forest which are outside the purview of the Indian Forest Act 1927 and are traditionally and customarily under the control of the indigenous communities in the Northeast. Despite the threats to the community forests which are owned by the indigenous communities, the North East region has seen a mushrooming of ‘community reserves’ since the first community reserves were established in the region in 2011 in the name of joint management/conservation of the forests. As on January 2023, there are 220 Community Reserves in 9 states of India out of which 208 (or 94.5% of the total community reserves) have been established in the Northeast. Arunachal Pradesh has established 9 community reserves with area of 131.6 sq. km, the tribal rights organization has said. [Ends]

For any further information or clarification, please contact Mr Dilip Chakma, Executive Director, IRAC at mobile: 7406314043