By T Ninan*
Indian democracy has ample examples of progressive policies not being able to meet people’s aspirations due to systemic inadequacies, implementation shortages and loopholes being misused by economic elite to dilute the process. The scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers Act (2006) is one such legislation. The Act was passed after prolonged people’s struggles for recognition of Adivasi and Forest dwellers rights over individual and community land. The Act accorded the same. It was seen as a watershed moment for Adivasi and forest dwellers. The Act showed promise of undoing historic injustice being meted out to tribal population. It raised hopes.
With completion of about a decade after the passage of the Act, a lot of loopholes, shortages and contradictory trends which are diluting the process are being witnessed. The book titled ‘Adivasi aur Van Adhikar – Jharkhand meyvanadhikarkajameenihakikat’ (Adivasi and Forest Rights – Grassroots reality of Forest rights in Jharkhand) brings out the truth behind the implementation of forest rights act in Jharkhand.
The book is divided into 28 chapters. The initial chapters provide the larger context of FRA in India in its historical, constitutional and planning perspective. An examination of Adivasi relationship with forests, the history of forest laws, constitutional provisions for forest protection in India and forest protectionprovisions in the five year plans are discussed. The later chapters provide an analysis of the results of implementation. The larger emphasis on industrialization, deforestation and development diluting the FRA implementation process are pointed out.
The specific situation of implementation in Jharkhand based on comparative analysis with state disaggregated national data is provided. The book also touches upon aspects such as politics of forest rights, the implementation loopholes and manipulation of statistics to show better achievement and the terror tactics of forest department in collaboration with military industrial complex. It tries to point out that while FRA aimed to enhance interests of Adivasi, the current trend only seems to suggest otherwise.
The book brings out the loopholes in implementation of forest rights. These include instances where many Adivasi households are given land as low as 25 decimal (0.25) acre which is hardly adequate for practicing agriculture. There have been examples when the suggested acreage requested for by Gram Sabha have been stuck down at Block level and provided much lower share of land. Failure of community forest rights performing poorly with only 9% of villages applying for the same has been brought to light. There have been instances where villages demanding community rights have been terrorized by state machinery.
Instances of lands being transferred to industrial and mining lobbies, pressure tactics on gram sabha to provide consent for lands to be acquired by iron ore companies are discussed. The other implementation gaps such as delay in providing entitlements, denial of entitlements recommended for at the village level, non-availability of proof certificates being made the basis for rejection of claims, issues of corruption are dealt with.
The author tries to bring out contradictions in relation to gaps between claims and implementation. Referring to politics of forest rights, it is stated that all political parties have tried to make political dividend in the name of forest rights. Big claims on commitment to forests rights have been made. This becomes an issue only during elections and aimed at attracting tribal vote share. Once in power, the parties have primarily aimed to serve interests of corporate India. He cites the instance of Saranda forests, where over extraction of iron ore has been carried out for long. The state too has been quite liberal in doling out land to the mining companies. But when it comes to Adivasi entitlement for land for meeting basic livelihood needs, the state behaves differently.
Illustrations of alliance between mining companies, district administration, forest department and anti Maoist squads such as Tritiya prastuti committee (TPC) coming together and working against the interests of locals are brought to light. Fake charges against forest rights activists to suppress their demands and transfer of land to mining companies through fake Gram Sabhas are quite common. Commercial interests dominate in the committees that exist on forest rights at Block and District levels. Hence instances of large scale rejections of individual and community claims are prevalent.
Given the current scenario of FRA implementation, the author questions the sincerity of the state in undoing historic injustice to Adivasi and forest communities. He believes that this will have its implications on livelihoodsof Adivasi population. While on the one hand, Adivasi population are failing to get access to just limited land which they can use for agriculture purpose, on the other hand the industrial and mining lobbies are able to get what they want.
He further cautions that in the name of ‘CAMPA Act 2016’ and carrying out afforestation, Adivasi population may be further displaced from the forests. These situations throw up questions about the commitment of the state to do justice to Adivasi population. Gladson points that the state is compromising interests of people in favor of corporate interests. Democracy is being compromised as a result. Economic and political favoritism in favor of the rich has only gone against the interests of Adivasi population.
The book raises some fundamental questions and provides recommendations towards the end. It calls for relooking into rejected claims, empowering the Gram Sabhas and the Tribal department, setting time limits for accepting claims, formation of social watch committees consisting of civil society and people’s representatives to oversee implementation of FRA and CAMPA fund to be managed by Gram Sabha instead of forest department.
The book is a useful reading to understand broadly on how a pro-people progressive legislation actually performs when it comes to implementation. It shows the functioning’s of a political economy where the systemic flaws and bias is manipulated to benefit the corporate interests than the poor. It is also a useful reading to understand forest rights act both in its theory and practice.
*Works with an NGO as a researcher. Source: https://www.countercurrents.org/