Forest rights are under threat in several Indian states, even as the Government of India is toying with the idea of watering down the law providing land rights to the tribal people. A recent workshop in Odisha highlighted the haphazard manner in which the forest rights Act is being implemented in the state. A report on the workshop:
Real empowerment of Gram Sabha (village council) was emphasized in the one-day workshop on the Forest Rights Act (FRA) organized by the Centre for World Solidarity’s (CWS’s) Odisha Resource Centre at Hotel Presidency, Bhubaneswar November 12, 2014. In the workshop, CWS’s partner organizations working in Mayurbhanja, Nabarangpur, Rayagarda, Puri, Keunjhar, Kalhandi districts were participated. After Chandana Das, joint director, CWS welcomed the participants and shared the objective of the workshop, Dr Aurobinda Behera (retd), IAS, emphasized on the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) for effective implementation of the FRA in the state. Giving critical observations on the slow progress of community forest resources (CFR) rights recognition in the state, he said, “The state government mostly focused on recognition of individual forest rights (IFR) in the last five years, and the same seriousness is lacking for the recognition of community forest rights (CFR). Besides, there has been consistent misunderstanding over CFR at different levels.”
Dr Behera suggested the civil society organizations should give priority for CFR in those areas where the forest department is obstructing the forest dwellers to enjoy forest rights recognized under the FRA. He also emphasized on convergence of different livelihood programmes run by the Government of Odisha over the forest land issued under individual forest rights (IFR). He also insisted upon a “Broad Guideline” to be followed by the Gram Sabha for the protection and management of CFR.
Dr. Karunakar Pattnaik, retired IAS officer, talk about “the role of CSOs in making advocacy and the need to liaison with the government institutions”. This, he said, was necessary in order to achieve the objectives of the pro-people legislations such as the FRA and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Act (MGNREGA). He said, “Different district administrations are adopting different approaches and strategies to implement the FRA but the success depends upon the community people’s assertiveness. He called upon the CSOs just to empower the community people with their legal rights, facilitate them in the process, and leave them to achieve their goal by themselves. He also emphasized on village-wise “perspective plan” prepared by the villagers themselves with the facilitation of CSO for all developmental work.
Dr Manohar Chauhan, member, Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, presented the present scenario and development on the FRA at different levels. He said, “The Narendra Modi government at the Centre is under tremendous pressure from the corporate lobbies and want to dilute all the progressive laws including the FRA, Land Acquisition Act, 2013, etc. which are coming on the path of Corporate growth and development. There has been continuous conflict between the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) over the dilution of the Gram Sabha’s authority to consent for diversion of forest land for non forest purpose. While MoTA is trying to save the face of Modi government, MoEF is reflecting the Modi government’s will”, he said.
Giving brief report of FRA implementation in the State, Chauhan said, “As per the Government FRA Status report, till September 30, 2014, 3,37,664 IFR and 3,404 CFR titles have been issued and 1,44,012 IFR claims have been rejected at different levels (79,134 at Gram Sabha ,63,564 at SDLC and 1,314 at DLC level).” Giving his critical observation on the FRA implementation in the State, he said, “The authority of the Gram Sabha recognized under the FRA has been disrespected and sidelined by the district administration”. Talking about the IFR titles issued in the state, he said, “While the state government is claiming to be No1 in distributing highest number of IFR titles in the country, most of the IFR titles are haphazardly issued without field verification/demarcation of the occupied plots leading to conflicts and less area. Interestingly, the average forest land distributed in the state is constant to 1.59 acres starting with 2009.” He also criticized the administration for arbitrarily rejecting the IFR claims of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs).
Commenting over the convergence of the FRA with development programme he said, “It is reported that out of 3,37,664 IFR titles distributed, around two lakh IFR title holders have been covered under different schemes, i.e Indira Awas Yojna (IAY), Mo Pokhari, land development under the MGNREGA and so on. But it would have been good if actual convergence of these schemes would have been done over the forest land issued under IFR.”
Talking about the CFR titles issued in the state, he said, “Despite Forest Rights (Amendment) Rules, 2012 and clarifications made by MoTA in a number of circulars issued, misunderstanding still persists at the districts and state over what rights is to be covered which claimed under “B’ and ‘C’ form. Not a single title in the state has been issued as per the claim filed under the ‘C’ form and whatever CFR titles issued are faulty and incomplete, including all the CFR titles issued in Kandhamal district which claims to be No 1 in distributing CFR titles in Odisha.”
Criticizing the role of state forest department in FRA implementation, he said, “The forest department is not only non-cooperative to FRA but it is creating hurdles by lunching projects like Ama Jungle Yojana which is contradictory to FRA and PESA. He called upon all the CSO present at the workshop to work for the real empowerment of the Gram Sabha, to ensure the FRA Gram Sabha (where all members of the gram sabha would take part) to take over the forest under their control, protect and manage those forest which is sole objective of the FRA.
Sandeep Kumar Pattanayak of the National Centre for Advocacy (NCAS), shared his views on the emergence and importance of scheduled fifth area in the constitution of India. He emphasized on the authority of the Gram Sabha over its natural resources. Sudhansu Deo, consultant, FRA, shared his views on the field realities and difficulties faced by CSOs while implementing FRA. In the meeting Meena Das Mohapatra, team leader, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), joined as guest. At the end of the programme, Dr Parikhit Sahu of the CWS gave vote of thanks to all the guest speakers and participants of the workshop.