FRA: There is little awareness in tribal women about their one-third presence for gram sabha quorum

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Suggestions by the Working Group of Women and Land Ownership (WGWLO) in the context of Forest Rights Act for making submission to Ranjit Kumar, commissioner, tribal development, Gujarat government:

WGWLO (Working Group of Women’s Land Ownership) is a network of 18 CSOs, 19 CBOs to increase access and control over the productive resources for women farmers. From 2017 it has started working on sustainable agriculture practices in all its women farmers groups. WGWLO covers 53,000 women farmers in Gujarat. Till now 7,600 women have got their land rights and 13,000 women farmers are registered in I-Kisaan portal, 7,000 women farmers have taken benefits from different government schemes of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), agriculture department, horticulture department etc. The WGWLO network has done successful tie ups with government line departments.

Six of the 12 districts member-organizations of WGWLO are working, are in tribal areas. Member-organizations also work with pastoral community. In both places, Forest Rights Act 2005 apply. Following is a brief note on issues faced by member sangathans of women in the field. We request you to kindly look into the issues and take appropriate action on the same.

Background

The Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was passed by the Government of India. The notification of the rules for the implementation of the Forest Right Act (FRA) 2006 in January 2008 paved the way to undo some of the ‘historic injustice’ done to the Tribals and other forest dwellers. Across India forest people are fighting for democracy, livelihood and dignity. The FRA, 2006 is one instrument for this struggle. The Act (i) grants legal recognition to the rights of the Tribals and other traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the earlier forest laws and (ii) makes a beginning towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation.

The Act recognizes thirteen different rights that are central to the lives and livelihoods of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers across the country. These cover title rights, use rights, relief and development rights and forest management rights.2 It also provided for a transparent and democratic procedure readily accessible to tribals and other traditional forest dwellers by making the gram sabha the fact finding and verification authority. Two high level Committees comprising officials of three departments and panchayat representatives have been given responsibilities for collation and final approval of claims on over forest land. The law statutorily empowered gram sabhas to protect and manage their surrounding forests for sustainable use and for preserving their cultural and natural heritage.

The rules make provision for constitution of Forest Rights Committee (FRC) by the Gram Sabha to assist in preparing a list of claimants on forest land, verifying the claims, preparing the record of claims including putting together evidence, receiving and acknowledging the claims and to preparing the claim for community forest rights on behalf of the Gram Sabha. Constitution of the FRC and its effective functioning is important for the implementation of the Act in the true spirit.

For the status of implementation of IFR and CFR in the state of Gujarat, based on the: Monthly Progress Reports – Office of Joint Commissioner, Tribal Development (FRA), Gandhinagar as on May 31, 2018 click HERE.

Empowering provisions for women and their implementation in the context of FRA:

Women play a crucial role in the conservation and management of forest resources. Women’s right to forest land is important for the enhancing their social and economic status and their empowerment. The ‘rights’ agenda in the Forest Rights Act is reflected in the demand for participation of forest dependent people especially women in the political decision making process. It has enabling provisions for participation of women in institutions and decision making bodies set up under the law. The act has created a legal space to recognize the rights of women over forest land through the provision of land title in joint names and independent title to single women and women headed households.

Some of the key provision for women under FRA are:

  • Section 2 (g) provides for full and unrestricted participation of women in Gram Sabha
  • Rule 3 (1) Provides that at least 1/3rd of the members of the FRC should be women
  • Rule 4 (2) “The quorum of the Gram Sabha shall not be less than ½ of the member of the Gram Sabha and has provided that at least 1/3rd of the members’ present should be women.
  • Rule 5 (c) requires that at least 1 of the 3 PRI members nominated to SDLC should be a woman
  • Rule 7 (c) requires that out of three members of the district panchayat nominated to the DLC by the district panchayat 1 has to be a woman.
  • Section 4 (4) Ensures equal rights of women in the titles issued under the FRA. Also ensures independent rights to title for single women and women headed households.

As per the order of High Court dated 3rd of May, 2013, the process of re-examination of rejected claims continues today. While this process is on, we would like to express a few hurdles and difficulties that are faced by communities and individuals seeking to claim their rights under the law. These are based on the extensive experience of working with issues of forest rights possessed by member-organizations of the WGWLO. It is our sincere hope that these concerns are addressed and the process of re-examination of IFR claims (as well as approval of CR/CFR claims) proceeds in accordance with the spirit of the law.

Hurdles and issues in implementation identified by member-organizations of WGWLO in three key areas:

a. The role of women within decision-making bodies under the Act and in having rights under the Act recognized.

b. In broader concerns with difficulties in implementation of the Act with regard to IFRs specifically, with women’s perspective.

c. With regard to the problems emerging in the implementation of the law vis-à-vis pastoralist communities (both men and women) and the hurdles to recognition of their rights to the forest, specifically CR/CFRs.

With each concern outlined by us below, we have provided, where appropriate, a suggestion based on our experience of the administrative machinery under the Act. It is our strong belief that these suggestions will go a long way in ensuring smooth implementation of the FRA.

Suggestions for the implementation of implementation of FRA:

Related to the role of women within decision-making bodies under the Act and in having rights under the Act recognized:

Despite the above provisions in the Act regarding women’s participation and decision making roles, our experience shows that:

1. Awareness among women of FRC and their participation in decision making of FRC.

Issue: Women have limited information on the Forest Rights Committee and their role in the committee. They are present in FRCs but their role in decision making and setting the agenda is yet to be established.

Suggestion: There is a need to build awareness on FRA and FRC and the role of women in FRC.

2. Awareness about women’s presence as minimum quorum for Gram Sabha.

Issue: The fact that 1/3rd members present have to be women for quorum of the Gram Sabha is not known widely.

Suggestion: Special drives need to be made to create awareness and mobilize women to be present in Gram Sabha and voice their preferences.

3. Women’s participation in SDLC and DLC.

Issue: Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) representatives are part of SDLC and DLC as mandated. However, they are not playing the role that is required. They, especially women members have limited information and knowledge about FRA and therefore not able to voice their opinion in meetings with Collector and DFO.

Suggestion: Proactive measures have to be taken to ensure women’s presence and active decision making in these institutions. More importantly there is need to build capacities that will enable women to influence the agenda and improve their level of participation in various meetings and forums.

4. Effective Participation of Women in Site Verification Committees.

Issue: Women are members of the site verification committees. But they are not aware of this. Further in many cases it has been noticed that the committee does not visit the site for verification and much of the verification is done from office by the members. Women end up signing on the documents.

Suggestion: There is need to create a monitoring system that ensures that the actual site verification happen and women also participate in the process.

5. Representation of Maldhari women (and men) in Forest Rights Committees (FRCs).

Issue: Despite being a significant proportion of the population of forest-dependent communities, Maldhari community members are grossly under-represented on FRCs across the State. This is a significant lapse. Aside from one village in Danta block, wherein a single male pastoralist was a member of the FRC, their representation is almost completely absent.

Suggestion: It should be ensured that the FRCs consist of a fair representation of Maldharis and other forest-dependent communities, especially ensuring women’s membership and effective participation.

6. Lack of Awareness among Pastoralist communities (both men and women) about Forest Rights Act.

Issue: While the FRA explicitly identifies all forest-dependent communities as possessing rights to the forest that it recognizes, in implementation a significant focus has been placed on Scheduled Tribes communities often to the inadvertent exclusion of Other Traditional Forest-Dwelling communities. Pastoralist communities are completely unaware of their own rights, despite being in the forest for more than three generations – 75 years. No special measures have been taken to create awareness amongst them.

Suggestion: A special drive for awareness and a series of camps should be carried out to reach out to Maldhari communities, ensuring women’s presence as well, so that they can put up their claims for CR/CFRs and IFRs.

Difficulties in implementation of the Act with regard to IFRs:

1. Large number of pending claims with lack of awareness about status.

Issue: Extensive pendency in claims to forest land under the Act, with claimants being unaware of present status of their claims. This has resulted in a vacuum where plantation activities by the Forest Dept. are being carried out on land under process in the FRA. In four villages of Danta block, out of a total of 43 claims to IFRs filed by members of the Maldhari community, 24 claims are pending, with no reason shown.

Suggestion: It would be good to issue specific instructions to DFOs to avoid such conflict.

2. Rejection of claims on the grounds of being a government servant. Issue: Despite clear guidelines issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Union of India, and despite no such provision within the Act, several claims to forest land have been rejected on the ground of either the claimant or the claimant’s husband being a government servant. Suggestion: It is important to re-address the law and such claims revisited.

3. Rejection of claims despite adequate documents of proofs.

Issue: Despite appropriate and adequate submission of documents along with their claim forms, several claims have been rejected en masse on account of non-submission of documents. In four villages of Danta block, out of a total of 43 claims to IFRs filed by members of the Maldhari community, as many as 19 (roughly 50%) have been similarly rejected (the rest 24 are pending, with no reason shown). This is despite the fact that claimants submitted as many as 17 documents under Rule 12 of the FRA Rules, 2008 as evidence of possession and use.

Suggestion: To bridge this monitoring gap, it is suggested that special loksunvais are conducted so that appropriate documentation can be resubmitted and the claim revised.

4. Demand for possession of land at present by the FD.

Issue: Under the Act, the provision stipulates land possession/cultivation before at least December, 2005. Subsequent to this, there is no provision regarding mandatory provision of proof of present status of land. This is still being demanded at appeal/revision hearings.

Suggestion: Appropriate directions may be issued hereto ensure compliance with the law.

5. Plantations by Forest Department on land claimed (but yet not sanctioned) under the FRA.

Issue: Our experience has shown that during fallow season, when no crop is planted, the Forest Department has engaged in widespread plantation of saplings on lands claimed under the FRA. This precludes the farmer from farming her land the following season and causes irreparable loss of livelihood. Such a practice is also in clear violation of Section 4(5) of the Act.

Suggestion: Appropriate directions need to be issued to the DFOs to strictly desist from such practices, which are not legal.

6. Transfer to revenue records.

Issue: Under the law, once a claim is approved the land claimed is transferred to the revenue record, under the name of the claimant and her spouse. However, our experience has shown that despite RoRs being issued, in several cases the same are not translated into the revenue record and are not reflected in Village Form Nos. 7 and 12 under the Bombay Land Revenue Code.

Suggestion: This process needs to be hastened.

7. Multiple entries in the same survey number.

Issue: All those who have claimed their rights for the same forest land which has the same survey number have names in the same land records. This prevents the claimant from further taking advantage of accessing schemes to make land productive, as they have to take consent of all other co-owners to access any scheme. This is next to impossible for women farmers given the patriarchal nature of the society.

Suggestion: This matter needs to be resolved at the earliest and issuance of individual survey numbers must be done to claimants.

9. Community Rights for Maldhari communities.

Issue: Maldhari men and women are dependent on the forests for their livelihoods. Despite being recognised as right-holders under the Act, traditional grazing rights of Maldhari communities have not been sanctioned by the State.

Suggestion: CR/CFRs of Maldhari communities need to be sanctioned with urgency as per the Act and in recognition of traditional grazing rights. This is essential to the livelihood security of Maldhari men and women, which is increasingly under threat.

10. Need for interdepartmental cell.

Issue: While a dedicated FRA Cell does exist, it is our view that an inter-departmental cell consisting of the Forest department, Revenue department and the present FRA cell needs to be established in order to ensure smooth implementation of the law.

Suggestion: Setting up of an interdepartmental cell with three departments: tribal development, FD and revenue would help ease sorting out issues.


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