Experience of eight years of Forest Rights Act implementation in Odisha is not at all encouraging

odisha-tribals2A Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD) note on tribals’ and forest dwellers’ celebration on enactment of Forest Rights Act (FRA) a decade ago:  

Hundreds of tribals and forest dwellers under the banner of Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, the organization which struggled for the enactment of historic Forest Right Act (FRA), 2006 celebrated the enactment of FRA a decade ago. At the same time, tribals with their traditional cultural dresses and weapons marched in a protest rally  and condemned both the Central and State Governments for violating the Act and demanded for its proper implementation. The protest rally started from the Master Canteen, Bhubaneswar railway station and marched towards lower PMG.

Addressing the media, Prafulla Samantra said, “The the passing of FRA is a historic step in the Constitution of India. For the first time after independence of India, the Government of the country admitted to have done historical injustice with the tribals and forest dwellers from the British period. And due to this historic rights recognised, the Dongaria Kandh with their struggle could win against Vedanta and Government of Odisha over Niyamgiri Hills in 2013.”

Lada Sikaka of the Niayamgiri Suraskhya Samiti (NSS) said, “The government of independent India which should have passed the FRA just after India’s independence took 60 years to understand relationship between the tribals and forests. The slow implementation of FRA especially recognition of community rights over forest in last 10 years shows that the Government is not happy with this enactment. But after our victory over Niaymgiri Hills, we have understood that this Act not only revives the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996 enacted for the scheduled 5th area, but also it extends the provisions of PESA even to non-scheduled area (to the whole country) empowering the Gram Sabha as “Gram Sabha Sarkar”-the decision maker of its own affairs and custodian of its own resources.”

Pradeep Sahoo, senior CSD member, said, “In 80 per cent of cases, the individual forest rights (IFR) titles have been issued without demarcation/verification of the occupied and claimed forest land leading less area. This will lead to serious conflicts in the coming days. In most of the cases, IFR titles issued are without map. Besides, while no gram sabha rejects any IFR claim, around 1,52,530 ( 1,27,214 of scheduled tribes or STs and 25,316 of other traditional forest dwellers or OTFDs) have been arbitrarily rejected in the State by the sub-divisional level forest rights committee (SDLC) officials and all the blame of rejection have been arbitrarily put upon the Gram Sabha. And all the so called community forest rights (CFR) titles reported to have been issued in the State are faulty.”

CSD member Anna Kujur of Sundargarh, raising concern, said, “In last 10 years of FRA enactment and 8 years of its implementation across the State is not at all encouraging one. While the Government of Odisha claims to be No1 in the whole country to have recognised highest number of  IFR titles comparative to other States of India, the bare realities is that, the state government has used this recognition Act as land distribution scheme for its political gain.”

odisha-tribals1In the protest rally, CSD members condemned both Central and State Government for violating the FRA, 2006. “The Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India is openly violating FRA by bringing unconstitutional circular (28th October 2015) bypassing gram sabhas’ consent for liner projects and privatising forests. Besides, the recent enactment of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Fund Act, 2016 itself is an open violation of the authority of Gram Sabha recognised under FRA”, they said.

Among others who addressed the protest rally are Arun Dehudi from Baudh, Trilochan Punji  and Rupadhar Bisoi from Bolangir, Meghnath Kharsel from Nuapada, Biranchi Bariha from Bargarh, Amulya Kumar Nayak, Lal Mohan Murmu and Narendra Pingua from Angul, Upendra Nayak, Lada Sikaka and Pusika Sikaka from Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti(NSS) from Rayagarda Prafulla Mishra and Sarojini Nayak from Nayagarh, Radhakanta Sethi(AIPF) etc.

At the end of the programme, a delegation team of four members(Anna Kujur, Biranchi Bariha, Saraswat Jani) led by Lada Sikaka met the Governor of Odisha at Raj Bhawan and appraised him on the violation of FRA. They submitted CSD, Odisha, memorandum of 16 points demands. The demands in the memorandum are:

  1. Respect the gram sabha as “Gram Sabha Sarkar” and let it take its own decision independently.
  2. Demarcate all the forest land under actual occupation of the tribals and forest dwellers and issue correct IFR title. Review all the rejected and pending IFR claims in the State. Create awareness at the community level so that they can reclaim the left area not issued in the IFT titles issued.
  3. Issue IFR titles to the OTFDs as per the approval and recommendation of the Gram Sabha Sarkar.
  4. Review all the community forest rights titles issued in the state and issue correct titles mentioning the actual CFR area.
  5. Dissolve all Vana Samrakhan Samitis (VSSs) formed in the state. These are illegal after FRA, 2006. Halt plantation programme over occupied forest land of tribals and forest dwellers. Let the forest development and management fund should directly come to the Gram Sabha through the forest Protection and management committee formed or to be formed under Section 5 of FRA, 2006 and Section 4(1) (e) of the Forest Rights Rules, 2007.
  6. Halt evicting and relocating people from sanctuaries without their will.
  7. Stop collecting royalty on Minor Forest Produce and ensure ownership rights of Gram Sabha and forest dwellers over Minor forest produce including kendu leave and bamboo.
  8. Identify all forest and un-surveyed villages falling in the reserve forest area in the State and immediately recognise village status to them and convert them into revenue village. Ensure in situ rehabilitation recognising both individual and community forest right to all the displaced community in the State.
  9. Monitor the violation done in the mining area of the State. Recognised forest rights first and respect the decision of the “Gram Sabha Sarkar” during diversion of Forest land for non-forest developmental purposes.
  10. Dismiss and withdraw all forest Offence cases still continue in different courts in the state. If forest offence cases are filed, first take approval and cognisance of the “Gram Sabha Sarkar”.
  11. Respect the PESA, 1996 and implement it in its true spririt in the Scheduled area of the State. Restrict the settlement and land ownership of non tribals in scheduled area and protect the scheduled area.
  12. Ensure panchayat in every village. The gram sabha of a village should be in the line of FRA Gram Sabha where the community/ gram sabha would be the decision maker of its own affairs.
  13. Recognised Habitat rights of all the 13 PVTG/PTG in the State and protect their area from encroachment of out siders.
  14. Provide village wise list of the IFR titles issued in the State.
  15. Immediate make ground demarcation of the occupied and claimed forest land by tribals and forest dwellers in the State and thereafter do Record of Rights (RoR) correction accordingly.
  16. Ensure Gram Sabha Authority in the use and management of CAMPA Fund Rules to be framed Let the CAMPA fund or any other forest development and management fund should come directly to the Gram Sabha.
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