Forest Rights Act in Odisha: Progress in few districts, but institutional obstructions remain

Photo: Naba Kishore Nayak

By Sanghamitra Dubey*

In Odisha, less than 6% of the state potential for rights recognition for over 25 million tribals and other traditional forest dwellers on nearly 6 million acres of landhas been achieved under India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA), according to a new report released in Bhubhaneswar.

The “State Level Report on Promise and Performance – Ten Years of FRA” has found that, in Odisha, effective implementation of FRA would ensure poverty alleviation and development in forest areas, improve forest conservation, and empower community-led afforestation.

An earlier report released in Delhi revealed that less than 5% of the potential for rights recognition for over 200 million tribals and other traditional forest dwellers over 34.6 million hectares of land has been achieved in the entire country.

Odisha was identified as one of a few states in the country that has recognized both individual forest rights (IFR) and community forest resource (CFR) rights.  CFR rights enable communities to use, protect and manage large areas of their customary forests and resources.

The state report, released by a collective of civil society organizations, has found that, in all, forest rights could be recognized over 5,788,714 acres of land in 34,090 villages. To date, community forest resource rights have been recognized over 2,64,559.21 acres of land.

Major challenges identified in effective implementation of FRA in Odisha include obstruction by the forest department in CFR claim and recognition process, the dilution of the law by forest department through schemes such as Ama Jungle Yojana (which promotes Vana Samrakhan Samitis (VSSs) formed by the forest department), the non-recognition of rights of non-tribal forest dwellers, and largescale plantation on community lands without Gram Sabha consent.

“Plantation of teak and eucalyptus by the Forest Department has reduced our area for cultivation. Previously we would grow 70-80 different types of millets. Now this variety has been completely reduced causing a crisis in food security and nutrition. We are open to trees being planted but these trees should be local species and benefit our community,” says Basanti Majhi, a member of the Kutia Kondh community, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group.

Concern has been raised by tribal groups in Odisha regarding the Odisha government’s wholehearted support to the recent enactment of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Act which contradicts FRA and does not have provision to ensure consent of Gram Sabhas.

“Odisha claims to be a frontrunner in recognizing rights under FRA. However such claim is challenged by the facts presented in the report which reveal that implementation of FRA is limited to only few pockets (mostly due to civil society efforts) and large number of CFR claims are pending in the tribal districts. Claims are particularly pending from the mining districts (Sundergarh, Keonjhar, Koraput, Rayagada) prompting self-declaration of Community Forest Resource areas by Gram Sabhas in large numbers”, says Manohar Chauhan, a lead campaigner of the National Campaign for Survival and Dignity.

Despite these barriers, successes have been achieved in the state that have not been seen elsewhere in the country. In Simlipal Tiger Reserve, 43 Gram Sabhas received CFR titles over 27,127 hecatres of land inside the protected area. Processes for the recognition of Primarily Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) have also begun in Odisha.  The state government has also implemented the minimum support price (MSP) scheme for minor forest produce.

Says Y Giri Rao, Director of Vasundhara, “FRA holds great significance for Odisha as  more than 40% of total population lives and depends on forests in the state, including tribals, particularly vunerable tribals groups, Dalits, and women. Most of districts having high potential for recognition of rights, which also shows high incidence of poverty and destitution caused mainly due to insecurity of land and forest tenure.”

He adds, “As the Odisha government is now formulating a development agenda for 2036 – towards hundred years of state formation – FRA presents an opportunity to set up a new paradigm of development for tribals and forest dwellers by securing their legal rights and empowerment of the Gram Sabhas to conserve and manage forests.”

Moving forward, the state level report recommends

  1. scaling up of recognition of CFR rights by the state govt to cover all potential tribal and forested districts,
  2. strengthening of institutional mechanism for implementation particularly functioning of the state level monitoring committee, the district and sub-divisional level committees,
  3. establishing dedicated FRA Cells at the tribal department to provide support to implementation, and
  4. political intervention to address the conflicting programs implemented by the forest dept (Ama Jungle Yojana, CAMPA) obstructing FRA and CFR rights.

*Researcher working with Vasundhara


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