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Implementation Of Community Forest Resource Rights Remains Tardy

By National Consultation on Community Forest Resource Rights and Governance

24 December, 2015

As part of Community Forest Rights Learning and Advocacy process (CFR-LA), Kalpavriksh and Vasundhara with support from OXFAM organised the annual consultation on Community Forest Resource Rights (CFR) provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006. The consultation was held in Delhi on the 11th and 12th of December 2015. Over 80 participants from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujrat, Goa, Odisha, Maharastra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh involved in the implementation of CFRs directly or indirectly attended the consultation. Participants included community members from tribal communities, nomadic pastoralists, particularly vulnerable tribal groups, other traditional forest dependent communities, in addition to civil society organisations, jan andolans, researchers and others.

Three Members of parliament also attended the consultation, namely:

Shri Binoy Viswam - National Executive Committee Member of CPI and Former Forest Minster of Government of Kerala;

Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste, BJP, representing Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. He is also the member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Welfare of SCs and STs. He has been a patron of Akhil Bharatiya Gond Sangh since 1998.

Ms. Kotapalli Geetha, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, representing Aruku Constituency in Andhra Pradesh.

Shri Hussain Dalwai (represented by his LAMP Fellow Ms Manasi V.), Rajya Sabha Member from the Indian National Congress, Maharashtra, also an ex- Trade Unionist, Journalist and Writer by profession.

From the updates and issues that were shared by the participants it was apparent that even after eight years of implementation of the Act recognition of CFR rights remains slow and tardy, except in a few pockets in the country. Participants collectively observed that this was because of extremely weak political and administrative will and support towards implementing the law. Four major underlying reasons were felt to be the cause of this weak Will to implement the law; Macro-economic policies in favour of industrial development; Strong push from the forest establishment to retain and reassert their control over the forests; Continuing faith in exclusionary conservation policies; and finally the state nodal agencies financially and human resource wise not strong enough to deal with the impacts of the above factors.

Following key issues in the implementation of the CFR provisions were brought up by the participants:

1. Non implementation of CFRs in forest areas proposed for forest diversion for non forestry purposes: Many examples, presented by the participants show a strong resistance in implementation and even violation of the Act in forest areas proposed for diversion for various projects:

- Rights recognition processes being delayed and stagnated where development projects are in the pipeline such as in states like Goa, Odisha and Chhattisgarh

- The mandatory process of completing the recognition and vesting of rights (particularly CFR rights and rights of PVTGs) and obtaining consent from the Gram Sabhas of affected villages has not been complied. Rather certificates and reports have been sent by the district collectors which don’t reflect on the FRA implementation for the proposals to be sent to the Central Government by the State Governments for forest diversion

- Forest Advisory committee (FAC) is still not proactive while recommending forest diversion in taking into account compliance of FRA. Minutes of the FAC indicate that the fact that gram sabha resolutions are attached with the state government proposal is enough to recommend the forest diversion without taking into account whether or the resolutions consented with or rejected the proposal. This was evident from the case of Kalu dam in Maharashtra, among others

- Many incidents of lands being handed over for industrial and commercial interests were presented such as the example of the Van Panchayat land in Uttarakhand being handed over to a private company by the state government for setting up an international education institution, without the consent or even consultation with the concerned villagers.

2. Conflicting legal regimes and obstruction by the Forest Department: The potential of CFRs in changing the overall forest governance in the country is evident already from a small sample of examples where local communities have asserted their rights over their CFRs and are managing them to strengthen local livelihoods, economic growth and biodiversity conservation. Participants from all the states shared experience of how the forest department is obstructing and undermining the CFR rights and authorities of Gram Sabhas through various programmes, schemes, policies and Acts. This is evident from some examples like given below, among many others presented:

- Participants across the states raised concern regarding the decision taken by the central government and the MoEFCC to open up 40 percent of the forests in India for private sector. The MoEFCC has issued specific guidelines in this regard which require the state governments to initiate the process of identification of the forest lands which can be handed over to the private companies through MoUs. State governments have already swung into action to actualise this as was reported from Maharashtra, MP and Chhattisgarh. Privatisation of forests is clearly antagonistic and violative of the legal democratic governance and management framework established under the Forest Rights Act which extends to all forest lands accessed and used by tribal and forest dwellers in India.

- Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have brought into effect the Village Forest Rules under the Indian Forest Act 1927, thereby undermining the Forest Rights Act and Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, by an Act of the colonial government. While the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has asked for withdrawal of the VFR notification by Maharashtra, the VFRs however continue to be implemented with active support from the forest department and the MoEFCC.

- Though CFR is now recognized as a new legal category of forest to be governed and managed by the Gram Sabhas but the forest department continue to carry out forestry operations in the CFR areas in violation with the FRA provisions. This was presented by many villages including Shankarpur in Gadchiroli.

- Massive plantations are being carried out forcefully on lands claimed under CFR or shifting cultivation fields of PVTG in many states. Serious cases of violations are particularly reported from the states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Intensive conflicts were reported from the state of Telengana where the state government and the forest department is implementing the Harita Haram project which is a flagship program launched by the state govt to carry out plantation in the individual and community forest lands.

- Continuing interference by the forest department in the claim recognition process at various levels including by stalling the process of claim verification and recognition at SDLC and DLC levels as was reported from Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

3. Continuing dominance of strictly exclusionary conservation practices and displacement from protected areas: In complete disregard of the legal provisions under the Forest Rights Act and the Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act, 2006 tribals and forest dwellers are being relocated from the protected areas particularly from the tiger reserves. This is despite strong emerging evidence that co-existence of people and wildlife is possible as brought out Aby the participants from BRT Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. Indian National Tiger Conservation Authority reported an increase in the number of Tigers in BRT from 35 to 68 between 2010 and 2014, despite the presence of 62 Soliga villages located inside and using the forest. 25 of these villages have also received their CFR titles. The exclusionary conservation mindset and approach is ensuring that:

- Claims filed under FRA within protected areas are not processed

- Relocation is taking place forcefully or proposedin violation of FRA from Tiger Reserves such as Panna in Madhya Padesh, Achanakmar in Chhattisgarh, Simlipal in Odisha.In Simlipal Tiger Reserve, local communities have claimed their CFRs with the help of the state administration and civil society, only to be relocated subsequently without any clarity on what happens to the rights which have been claimed and are non-alienable.

- Not only in tiger reserves but large number of villages are also notified for relocation within the newly identified elephant corridors in Chhatisgarh.

- Lack of required capacity and adequate resources within the Tribal Development Departments – nodal agencies at the state level: Llack of adequate human and financial resources and training has lead to lack of awareness and limited capacity with the state nodal agencies to support ground level implementation of FRA, this lead to the situations presentedby participants from different states as mentioned below: The provision of CFR rights is still not implemented in many states like Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, among others.

- Lack of awareness about the Act and its provisions within the nodal agencies at all levels even after eight years of the Act coming into existence.

- No facilitation and support to the gram sabhas for filing their claims except in a few pockets in the state of Maharashtra and Odisha

- Large scale claims are still pending at SDLC and DLC levels

- Large scale rejection of claims without any information to the gram sabhas and claimants.

- Illegal conversion of unsurveyed settlements and forest villages into revenue villages in the like Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand without following the prescribed guideline of MoTA.

4. Lack of adequate human, financial and capacity building support to Tribal Development Departments – nodal agencies at the state level: Lack of human and financial resources and adequate awareness and capacity within the nodal agencies has lead to inadequate support to the ground level implementation process leading to some of the below mentioned issues:

- FRA in general and CFR rights provisions in particular are still not being implemented in many states like Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Himachal Pradesh.

- Despite the Act being in existence for eight years the nodal agencies and various committees at all levels lack awareness about the Act and its provisions.

- No facilitation and support to the gram sabhas for filing their claims except in a few pockets in the state of Maharashtra and Odisha.

- Large scale claims are still pending unprocessed at SDLC and DLC levels, many stalled by the forest department.

- Large scale rejection of claims without any information to the gram sabhas and claimants.

- Illegal (without following the prescribed guideline of MoTA) conversion of unsurveyed settlements and forest villages into revenue villages like in Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

These issues presented by the participants were taken note of by the Members of Parliament who attended the consultation at various points in time. The MPs in response assured support in taking up the issues at the government level.

Binoy Viswam of CPI said that CPI has been in total support of the Act from its inception and continues to stay committed to its meaningful implementation. He emphasised that the biggest cause of forest degradation in the country and threat to both the tribals and forests were the national economic and development policies.

Kotapalli Geetha of Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party shared her own experience of Eastern Ghats where FRA was being violated to facilitate bauxite mining. She expressed her complete commitment and support to ensure that FRA is not violated for industrial interest at the expense of the local tribal and forest dependent communities.

Faggan Singh Kulaste from BJP said there were no two opinions about the need to implement the Act and he will do what he can to ensure that implementation hurdles are removed.

Hussain Dalwai, INC Rajya Sabha, could not attend himself but in a statement that was read out by his LAMP Fellow expressed all possible help towards implementation of the Act.

For more details contact:

Kalpavriksh - Neema Pathak Broome (neema.pb@gmail.com) and Meenal Tatpati (meenaltatpati@gmail.com)
Vasundhara – Tushar Dash (tushar@vasundharaorissa.org) and Sanghamitra Dubey (sanghamitra@vasundharaorissa.org)
OXFAM – Sharmistha Bose (Sharmistha@oxfamindia.org)



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