Odisha government shows no interest in implementing FRA in protected areas, turning them into conflict zones

odishaA consultation was held in Bhubaneswar on March 27, 2015 on the Issues and challenges in recognizing rights of displaced communities under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. Held at the Lohia Academy, the programme was organized by Vasundhara, an Odisha-based non- government organization (NGO) working on FRA. A note on the consultation:

Around hundred participants from displaced communities across the state due to mining, industries and irrigation projects, representatives of local sangathans and civil society organisations working on the issue and intellectuals joined in the consultation. The districts represented in the consultation include Baleswar, Deogarh, Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Angul, Koraput, and Mayurbhanj.

Pushpanjani Sathpathy from Vasundhara sharing the objective of the consultation said, “The main objective of the consultation is to assess the status of implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) for the displaced communities in specific cases in Odisha, to identify key issues and gaps in implementation, and to recommend measures to the implementing agencies”.

In the first session of the programme, the displaced communities coming from different districts shared their plights due to displacement and non recognition of their rights under Forest Rights Act,(FRA) 2006.

The FRA has several provisions to ensure rights for the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers(OTFDs) in the context of displacement. These provisions include Section 3 (1) (g) dealing with the rights for conversion of pattas or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any State Government on forest lands to titles; Section 3 (1) (m) dealing with the right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the scheduled tribes and OTFDs have been illegally displaced from forestland without receiving legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to the December 13, 2005.

Besides, Section 4 (8) deals with land rights of scheduled tribes and OTFDs who can establish that they were displaced from their dwelling and cultivation without land compensation due to the state’s developmental interventions, and where the land has not been used for the purpose for which it was acquired within five years of the said acquisition.

However, in the sharing of the displaced communities of different districts, it was found that there is no information on the provisions of FRA about them under under the FRA. The displaced families and the hamlets where they live are not represented in the gram sabhas and the forest rights committees (FRCs) properly. Diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes has been detrimental to the process of filing claims under the FRA by them. There is not enough support from the government and even from civil society organisations to help them in claim the filing process. Besides, there is also open violation of the FRA in the protected areas of the state where people are being displaced from their traditional habitations and in these areas collection of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) is being prohibited etc.

It emerged in the consultation that these areas have been a conflict zone where government hardly shows interest in implementing the FRA, people have been pressurised and even not allowed to file their forest rights claims, and even they are discouraged to make claims with the understanding that they would not fulfill the eligibility criterion of 75 years.

It was collectively asserted that since the local administration of the state does not seem to realise the progressive implications of the FRA that can safeguard the rights of STs and OTFDs, especially those who have been earlier displaced through development projects. Progress on the implementation is inadequate. The Government of Odisha must use the FRA as a tool to rectify the historical injustices borne by the displaced in the state.

To effectively deal with the issues of displaced community, the following recommendations have been put forth in the Consultation.

Amended rules of 2012 for the FRA specifically mention that the State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) can oversee the workings of the Act with respect to the displaced under provisions 3(1)m and 4(8). Thus, the District Level Committee (DLCs), with the help of Sub-Divisional Level Committee(SDLCs), have to collect all the relevant information on the displaced, take note of their problems and treat it as information, and must facilitate the claim-making process of the displaced so as to fasten the process of awarding rights.

The relevant government departments must ensure the representation of displaced families at the local/village level FRCs/grama sabhas and other bodies. Wherever necessary, separate FRCs must be constituted for the displaced. FRCs should include women from the displaced communities, and the concerns that they bring to these bodies should be foregrounded.

In the case of other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) who have been displaced, the 75-year provision needs be relooked and changed because it is impossible for the OTFDs who have been displaced due to the government’s development projects to fulfil this provision of the Act. It seems unjust that those who have suffered because of projects for ‘national development’ should again be penalised under the FRA.

For protected areas (including sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves), the FRA 2006 is being ignored or it is being flouted. Many provisions of the FRA, and of the Wildlife Amendment Act, 2006, are being observed more in their violation. Tribals and OTFDs are still being displaced from protected areas, their access to the protected areas for collecting NTFPs is being restricted, and other restrictions are being put on their traditional livelihood related activities in the forests. These are in clear violation of the FRA Act.

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs to issue a guideline, ‘Forest Rights Act and the Displaced’, to deal with the issues of the displaced communities. This guideline will help in recognising the rights of displaced communities under the FRA.

Among others who joined in the consultation as guest speaker are Prof. Golaknath, Prof. Balgopal Babu, Advocate Gupteswar Panigrahi from Koraput, Gopinath Majhi, Convenor, CSD, Odisha, Ananata Panda,President, Lok mukti Sangathan, Netrananda Samal (Rengali Bandha Basachyut Surakhya Samiti), Advocate Ranjan Sahu from Deogarh, Lingaraj, President, Bargarh Krushak Sangh, and Pradeep Purohit , MLA, Bargarh etc .

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