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The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) estimates that almost 400 million people in India depend on forests for sustenance and complementary income; these populations are among the most vulnerable and are generally considered extremely poor communities. Indian laws have considered forest dwellers as ‘encroachers’ and have criminalised their livelihood activities – collecting forest produce, farming, grazing of animals, and using water bodies – and has further restricted the dwellers’ rights.

In 2006, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dweller’s (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (also known as the Forest Rights Act) recognised customary rights over ancestral land and has received mixed reviews and seen various levels of success. This paper reviews the successes of the Act, and considers areas where it has been less effective. Specifically, while the Act grants individuals, families or communities the right over their own land, in its first six years, while the government received 3.5 million claims, only 39.7 per cent had resulted in land titles being granted.

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