Forest Rights and Governance in India | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

Welcome and introduction from Geetanjoy Sahu, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this timely and important webinar on Forest Rights and Governance in India, which is co-organized by  Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Landesa India with support from  the NRMC Center for Land Governance and the Land Portal Foundation. Thank you for joining us today. My name is Geetanjoy Sahu. I am an Assistant Professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. It is my honor to moderate this forum.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act of 2006, which is popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), has been widely recognised as one of the landmark legislations in the post-independent India. The Forest Rights Act recognises historical injustice meted out to scheduled tribe and other traditional forest dwellers and sought to restore the rights of forest dwelling communities over land and the governance & management of forests through decentralisation of power to Gram Sabha.

 

The Forest Rights Act has the potential to restore rights of forest dwellers on 40 million hectares of forest land in 170,000 villages. This covers one quarter of the villages in India. At least 150 million people, including 90 million tribal people stand to benefit from recognition of forest rights under the Forest Rights Act. Similarly, the Forest Rights Act has the potential to democratise forest governance by recognising rights of local communities.

While the Forest Rights Act came into force on January 1st, 2008, its implementation over the past decade has not been effective. Only 17 percent of the total potential forest area has been recognised under forest rights, and there has been a great deal of variation in implementation among states.

Nonetheless, the Forest Rights Act has great potential to bring about changes in forest governance by transferring Community Forest Resource rights and management authority to forest-dwelling communities. Over the past few years, thousands of villages, especially in Maharashtra and Odisha, have received such rights and many of them have begun to exercise how many villages in odisha and maharashtra—harvesting and selling bamboo and tendu patta, increasing forest protection and reducing destructive practices, managing fire, regenerating degraded patches and even identifying patches for strict conservation.

The challenges that they face is how to enable simultaneous pursuit of livelihood enhancement, equitable distribution, ecologically sustainable management and democratic processes in community forest rights management and governance.

The objective of this interactive and dynamic webinar is to discuss why has there been variation in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, to identify institutional bottlenecks to upscaling its implementation, as well as lessons learned from existing best practices.

Allow me to introduce our esteemed panelists:

  • Tushar Dash, Independent Researcher and Forest Rights Expert, Odisha
  • Dr. Soma K P, Policy Analyst and Expert on Gender and Development
  • Pinaki Halder, State Director, Landesa, West Bengal and Odisha

We have asked panelists to address implementation of the Forest Rights Act, its inclusion of traditional forest dwellers - men and women, innovations that have proven successful, and questions of governance and its impact on the forest rights discourse and policies.

We encourage participants to ask questions. Please use the questions feature to pose questions to the panelists. We will ensure that your questions are addressed in turn during the open discussion that follows.

Let us first begin with the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Pinaki, we want to get to the bottom of why the Forest Rights Act has not been effectively implemented over the last ten years. Can you share your perspective on this?

Comments

The Forest Rights Act is perceived as a legislation of the Government of India, yet  implementation is the responsibility of the state governments. Even within state government, the Department of Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development is the nodal agency, and there seems to be a pronounced lack of coordination with the forest and revenue departments. Unfortunately, a large number of people working in the Forest Department seem to have a feudal mentality of possessiveness, which is undermining implementation within this department. In addition, the Forest Rights Act is still seen as an individual patta(land record- distribution) giving Act only, people do not see the focus on community management, while the claims of non-tribal communities are often simply ignored.

Tushar, Can you share your perspective on why implementation of the Forest Rights Act has been so poor over the past decade?

Implementation of the Forest Rights Act has not been effective because of a lack of political will, non-cooperation by the forest administration, institutional and structural challenges, procedural bottlenecks and operation of conflicting laws and policies.  Some states, including MP, Maharashtra, CG, Odisha, AP, Telengana, Rajasthan, Karnataka, HP,  and Uttarakhand have the highest potential for recognition of rights. Except for Maharashtra and Odisha, the Forest Rights Act remains largely unimplemented in most of the states and,especially so in the last few years due to lack of attention and push from the central government.

Soma,  we’d like to hear from you on why you think the Forest Rights Act has been so poor?

Although the FRA is premised on restoration of ‘historical justice“, the issues of  gender justice that have been incorporated in the provisions of the act are seldom understood by state agencies  due to their deeply patriarchal structural biases. The overbearing presence of the FD plays an obstructive role in its implementation. Due to fears of loss of control over forest territories as well as over the produce from it FD has resisted its implementation and has been using force and coercive measures to restrain communities from claiming their rights and in fact has undertaken restrictive practices such as trench digging and fencing (eg Telangana - Khamman, Rajasthan – Udaipur, Sirohi, Gujarat- Dahod) to prevent communities from accessing forests even in areas where they have filed claims for IFRs and  CFRs. The greatest challenge this poses is for women who are now viewed as encroachers rather than as potential title holders as should rightfully be the case. as a consequence  the women from forest dweller communities are constrained from access to forest produce such as grasses, herbs and dry  fuelwood as well as uncultivated foods; as well as the benefits from scatter agriculture from ‘valar practices’ in forest regions (Rajasthan, Chattisgarh).

 The greatest challenge this poses is for women who are now viewed as encroachers rather than as potential title holders as should rightfully be the case. As a consequence the women from forest dweller communities are constrained from access to forest produce such as grasses, herbs and dry fuelwood as well as uncultivated foods as well as the benefits from scatter agriculture from value practices in forest regions.

Violence that women are subjected to as a consequence has taken new and serious forms, with women being charged for obstructing government functionaries from performance of duties while their cases and complaints of sexual harassment against FD are left unregistered (Gujarat, UK)

Thanks Soma. Pinaki, but what else is stopping the Forest Rights Act from being implemented? Can you describe some of the key bottlenecks?

There is a need for both political and social commitments to converge for the implementation of the Act   to be effective. The mentality of many people working in the Forest Department for example, often see forest dwellers as encroachers, and thus they not only don’t treat their main clients with the respect they deserve, their inappropriate behavior undermines implementation of the Act. This is compounded by failure on the part of several departments to act in concert, to work together. Each department interprets the provisions of the Act according to its own mandate, and also there are conflicts between the forest department, the revenue department and local stakeholders about boundaries. This is further compounded by the fact that there is absolutely no systematic effort to disseminate information about the Act and its provisions to forest rights communities and gram sabha members, and no effort is made to help built the capacity of these communities to deal with the Forest Rights Act.

Soma, how would you describe the bottlenecks stopping the Act from being implemented?

Bottlenecks to implementation are structural and operational in my view. As described earlier the feudal and patriarchal attitudes of  forest and revenue  department bureaucracies as I have found in the course of my research, as well as operational. Most communities still remain outside the reach of FRA due to lack of mechanisms  of outreach by the TAD and state departments responsible for implementation. In some states the responsible department has only been identified recently, While the provisions for OTFD, PVTG groups etc have not  been understood or implemented and have been used as means for denial rather than to facilitate their access and entitlement. Similarly for women the operational constraints have been further complicated by traditional mindsets that don’t recognize women as title holders or decision makers.

Tushar, what would you add to this list of bottlenecks stopping the Forest Rights Act from being implemented?

The MoTA and state tribal welfare depts, nodal agencies, have not been given the capacity by the central and state govts to deal with implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Moreover, authorities set up at the district and sub-district level (DLCs and SDLCs) have poorly functioned and have not adequately supported Gram Sabhas and Forest Rights Committees in the claim making, verification and mapping of forest rights. This is compounded by the fact that more than half of the claims have either been rejected or are pending. Claims of the other traditional forest dwellers including scheduled castes and other forest dependent communities have been mostly rejected. The most important provisions for vesting governance and management rights and authorities to the Gram Sabhas and forest rights holders under sections 3 (1)(i) and 5 have not been implemented fully, except for in Maharashtra and Odisha.

Provisions for rights of particularly vulnerable tribal groups, including nomadic and pastoral communities, have been ignored in the implementation process as also provisions for conversion of forest and unsurveyed villages into revenue villages and for recognition of rights of STs and OTFDs displaced to state interventions. Implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the process of claims and recognition of rights have been affected by a host of conflicting enactments, policies and programs implemented by the central and state governments.

Tushar, that certainly is a lot of bottlenecks!  Soma, have  you seen any other bottlenecks in the implementation of the Act?

One of the main reasons for FRA non implementation has been the attitude of the state forest dept cadres, as well as the lack of clarity among TD functionaries about their roles. Little training and capacity building opportunities for govt functionaries to their roles in its implementation. Odisha and Maharashtra have undertaken some training and the role of the governor has also been instrumental in motivating state institutions towards implementation of FRA, despite the hurdles posed by contradictory laws and guidelines. The focus on gender issues has only now begun to emerge with civil society interventions and in this area the role of women's organizations has been significant and offers more potential for the future. Persistent efforts of CSOs for instance have brought forth a focus the need for recording claims in the names of women and ensuring their representation in the governance bodies hitherto an ignored aspect.

In some states it  was the CSOs that brought the FFRA into the notice of the state departments as they were not acting to implement it due to these structural barriers as well as due  to a lack of awareness of their roles as in Rajasthan and UK

But there is still hope, as the implementation of the Forest Rights Act has not been a complete failure.  Pinaki, do you have any explanation why Maharashtra and Odisha have seen successful implementation of the Act?

Well, there are a combination of factors in that have made implementation of the Act in Maharashtra and Odisha. Importantly, civil society and NGOs played an active role in promoting the Act, providing hand-holding support to forest rights communities to file claims in a proper way. This was backed up by political commitment of politicians, local training and effective institutional collaboration, as well as use of technology in determining the forest village boundaries and individual claim settlement.

Tushar, do you have anything to add on why implementation has been successful in Maharashtra and Odisha?

In concur with what Pinaki is saying. Both these states had seen active involvement of organizations of tribals and forest dwelling communities in the campaign for enactment of Forest Rights Act and in the post implementation phase. Collective actions by the CSOs have evolved successful strategies for claiming various forest rights,particularly CFR rights, mapping of forest land and community forest resources that have been adopted by the state government and replicated. Furthermore, the state governments and tribal welfare departments have taken proactive measures to strengthen institutional mechanism for implementation, allocated funds, deployed staffs and issued enabling circulars and govt orders on implementation issues.

Soma, why do you think implementation of the Act has been so successful in Maharashtra and Odisha?

Groups  in Maharashtra have been effectively implementing the Act and holding Gram Sabha meetings and women have been claiming their space in CFR management. In Gujarat Adivasi and nomadic pastoral women of  the Miyana community have been raising  the issues of food  security and employment and dovetailing activities of MGNREGA with forest governance to ensure  that their  livelihoods needs are met. Women’s sangathans  in these and other  reginos such as Odisha have been struggling against the encroachment of their  forests and using FRA to claim their rights 

Pinaki, you mentioned that NGOs have effectively supported implementation of the Act. What is your perspective on this?

The reality is that state governments have made very little effort to disseminate information on the application and approval process for forest rights. NGOs have filled this gap and are effectively subsidizing the government by playing a very positive role in this area. Beneficiaries are mostly unaware of provisions of the Act and especially those pertaining to community rights (section 3.1 (b to m)). The role of NGOs is crucial in generating awareness on both  forest rights and capacity development of the forest dwelling community (potential claimants), for Forest Rights Communities and gram sabha. NGOs have also been really helpful in coming up with innovative choices for the government to consider, particularly in the area of boundary demarcation and individual plot area identification, as well as promoting women’s land rights through the implementation of the Act.

Tushar, what is your perspective on the engagement of NGOs in this process?

Implementation process has been driven mainly by organizations of tribal and forest dwelling communities and NGOs. The implementation process has gained in states and districts where there is active coordination and collaboration between the government authorities and CSOs.     It is increasingly felt that the new paradigm of governance of forest land and community forest resources introduced by the Forest Rights can be effectively established by active involvement of CSOs at different levels.  Involvement of CSOs has also helped in bringing innovative strategies for implementation of Forest Rights Act, particularly to deal with complex set of rights such as community forest resource rights, habitat rights of PVTGs, rights of pastoral and nomadic communities etc.

Pinaki, do you have any suggestions on how to improve the implementation process of the Forest Rights Act across India?

The various departments, including Revenue, Forestry,  ST/SC (Tribal) Development and Panchayati Raj, must take a more coordinated approach to planning, implementation, as well as monitoring the implementation of the Act. But this will not be successful without community participation, specifically the participation women in the process of FRC (Forest Rights Committee) and Gram Sabha deliberations and in joint verification processes. Both at national and state level, there needs to be significant efforts made to raise awareness of claim submission, process and disposal. The reality is that most claim rejections happen at the village (Gram Sabha) level. The decisions are taken by people like forest guards, who as mentioned commonly are biased and have a disdain for forest dwellers, the very people they are meant to serve.These decisions should be taken at a higher level after and provide opportunities for the voices of these communities to be heard. There are numerous mechanisms that can be implemented that will significantly improve implementation across India, such as converting forest rights to livelihood opportunities by linking it up with government schemes, conversion of forest villages into revenue villages, generating records of rights (RoR) against the titles issued , including women’s names in titles and RoRs as co-holders of plots, properly demarcate land of forest title holders, which is often arbitrary, and many other issues. I would be happy to go into further detail during the question and answer session.

Soma, what about implementation of the Act in the rest of India?

Large problems remain in this area especially in outlier states, where women continue to be targeted for encroachments even as the FD and other state interventions encroach upon their livelihoods rights through implementation of contradictory laws such as CAF which is really operating as a double whammy in the loss of forest cover in the first instance and the diversion of  common lands to plantation forestry often of species  contrary to the interests of biodiversity and to community interests as reported from Mizoram and Odisha. Mechanisms of redressal notwithstanding, FRA continues to be flagrantly violated as FD is now seeking to make inroads into influencing the TD decisions by having its own functionaries occupy the TD positions etc. Misgovernance and masculinist assertions seem to rule and yet community institutions and women therein challenge mainstream intrusions by rejecting commercial choices for ecological interests and community wellbeing (Eg Korchi and PAnch Gaon, and resist the instances of violations of rights and violence on their person.

Tushar, How do you think implementation could be improved in the rest of India?

Effective implementation of Forest Rights Act in India will require political will and commitment in the central government and state level and transformation of the forest administration. Measures need to be taken to improve institutional support by strengthening capacities of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, State tribal welfare depts, SLMCs, DLCs and SDLCs, Gram Sabhas and FRCs. Involvement of people’s organizations and civil society groups in the implementation process particularly in awareness and training, and in supporting Gram Sabhas and FRCs. The MoTA and state government authorities should ensure effective monitoring of implementation based on potential and performance data, disaggregated data from all states. Finally, both the central and state governments need to take steps to address conflicting laws and policies to create enabling legal and policy environment for implementation of the Forest Rights Act and for exercising of forest rights by tribal and forest dwelling communities.

Let us now turn to the subject of inclusion. Pinaki, in your view, why has there been such little progress in recognizing the rights of other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs)?

The main reason is that traditional forest dwellers have to prove continuous occupation of forest land for 3 generations or 75 years. This requirement of producing documentary evidence is stringently followed by the government officials is very difficult to satisfy by the claimants. In addition, a commonly shared concern is that making non-tribals eligible to claim rights under this Act would open the floodgate for powerful land-grabbers to acquire forest land.

Do you have anything to add? How do you explain the lack of progress in recognizing the rights of other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs)?

Although the Forest Rights does not make any distinction between STs and OTFDs, the confusion created over the criteria for recognition of OTFD rights and gaps in procedures have led to exclusion of OTFDs in the implementation process. In the initial years and even now it is widely understood that OTFDs require both residence and occupation of forest land for three generations (75 years) prior to 13th December 2005 to be able to claim their rights. However the MoTA has clarified that only residence of three generations (75 years) is required for claims by OTFDs. The criteria for occupation is same as that of STs. Despite of this clarification the misinterpretation continues at the ground level with the authorities insisting on both residence and occupation of 75 years and rejecting claims of OTFDs on that basis. The other major reason is the insistence on documentary evidence of three generation of residence which is not available with the OTFDs barring few examples where documentary evidence has been used by OTFDs for claiming rights. The other admissible evidences such as statement of elders, genealogy and family history, physical evidence have been rejected by authorities.

Soma, in your experience, how has the Act benefited women in rural areas?

The Forest Rights Act for the first time provides a space for women to claim titles jointly with spouses as members of households, and does not prevent households from submitting claims with women as the first title holder. Yet the state bureaucracy at the grassroots level prevents this where it has been attempted due to their patriarchal mindsets.  We find that only a small proportion of FRA claim titles (our estimate is about 10-20% ) are recorded jointly in the name of men and women, despite the provision for the same. Single women comprise at least 12 % of the population (government estimates -the reality we believe is much higher) but their titles are also seldom recorded independently.  

We often hear of women being sidelined from receiving benefits of the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Pinaki, do you have any views on what extent the Act has benefited women in rural areas?

The idea that women in rural areas must also benefit from the Act is gaining currency, Previously, titles were issued only in the name of male head of the household, with other family members names appearing separately. Now, however, women are jointly titled along with husband. opportunity is there while the RoRs (rights are integrated into the Registry) are generated to include women’s names.

Tushar, what have you seen in terms of how the Forest Rights Act has benefited women in rural areas?

The Forest Rights Act does provide for equal rights of women over land and community forest resources and ensures representation of women (at least 1/3rd) in the Gram Sabhas and FRCs for decision making. However, the provisions for rights of women have been largely ignored in the implementation process. The MoTA and state govt authorities don’t maintain separate information on rights of women and don’t monitor implementation of provisions relating to women’s rights. At the local level, representation of women in Gram Sabhas and FRCs is not ensured. Even if the women members are represented in Gram Sabhas and FRCs, but they are not actively involved in decision making process relating to claim making and verification process barring few rare examples of women getting organized to claim equal rights. Joint recording of forest rights is not ensured in many states and single women have been excluded. There are very few important initiatives focusing on women’s rights such as the process initiated in Odisha for compiling separate information on joint titles, titles in the name of single women etc. In recent years women organizations and networks such as MAAKAM have taken up the issues of women’s rights in the Forest Rights Act with the state and central government.

Let me now to turn to innovations. We have seen some success in Maharashtra and Odisha. Soma, what factors contributed to the successful enforcement of FRA in these two states?

Various strategies have been adopted by women and  communities to restore forest wealth and converge activities to strengthen governance in forest areas. Women’s  Collectives have emerged as major arbitrators for forest rights as well as drivers of innovations. In Odisha the innovations by women to restore their forests and maintain their vigil in Nayagarh have been well documented. In Garhchiroli and Chandrapur in Maharashtra and in Dahod Similarly in the North East which is invariably left out of the discourse of FRA as a Schedule 6 region we find that communities have sought to strengthen their  roles in governance and to resist displacement from PA areas. The example of ‘Pathalgadi’ in Jharkhand is not a new initiative, it has occurred in various parts of the country following the PESA Act. Although viewed negatively by state agencies it is in fact an assertion of constitutional rights and for democratic self-governance by Adivasi communities in their forests.

why do you think enforcement has been successful in Maharashtra and Odisha?

Again, they created opportunity for NGOs/ CSOs to participate in the process of FRA implementation, specifically enabling capacity within forest dwellers and FRCs on the provisions and other areas wherever possible. Moreover, application of spatial and remote sensing technology for demarcating the boundary and measuring area of plots for individual forest rights also been used, which has been crucial to this success.

Can we conclude that there are best practices under the Forest Rights Act? Pinaki, we’d like to hear your thoughts.

Yes, indeed, there are some best practices that are emerging. We need tocap development of FRCs and gram sabhas on the provisions of the Act, and also use of technology in demarcation of boundary and measuring of land of individual forest rights holders. Moreover, we need to systematically generate RoRs against the rights recognized, including women’s names in the corrected records with sketch maps.

Tushar, what best practices have you identified under the Forest Rights Act?

There are a number of initiatives and best practices on implementation of FRA.  Initiatives for claiming community forest resource rights and mapping by Gram Sabhas in tribal areas of Odisha (Mayurbhanj, Kandhmal). Supported by CSOs and local administration, Gram Sabhas and community members have successfully claimed and mapped customary boundaries and CFR areas (also inside a tiger reserve). Maharashtra also report large number of CFR rights recognized by the government. Gram Sabhas in Maharashtra (Gadchirloli, Amravati districts) have effectively exercised the MFP rights (Bamboo, Tendu leaves) with the help of CSOs and support from the government. This has generated huge opportunity to strengthen livelihoods, local forest based economy, employment and conservation efforts. Initiatives for claiming habitat rights of PVTGs in Odisha and Maharashtra. Claims and assertion of habitat rights by PVTGs and Gram Sabhas have renewed efforts for protecting rights and livelihoods of these vulnerable communities as also the biocultural habitats from the threats of extraction and mining (e.g. Niyamgiri), commercial monoculture plantations and other such interventions. Collective claims on pastoral landscapes and seasonal access rights by pastoral communities in Gujarat (Maldharis) and Himachal Pradesh (Gaddi and Gujjars). Although very few claims have been made but these examples create learning for addressing rights of the pastoral and nomadic communities living in the states of Himachal, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, AP and few other states. Initiatives by women groups and networks to raise awareness on rights of women in FRA and to facilitate grassroots interventions to ensure representation and participation of women in the Gram Sabhas and FRCs, to organize women to claim their rights and participate in the verification and mapping process. Local communities and gram sabhas in the states of Odisha and Maharashtra have established governance systems using provisions of FRA and have actively taken up conservation and management of forests based on traditional adaptive practices and local knowledge.

Pinaki, What has been the impact of the Forest Rights Act on the forest rights discourse in India?

Forest dwellers, with tenure security given, are proactively engaged in better using the land for food security and poverty reduction. ith the paper documentation (Titles), the forest dwellers are now entitled for accessing several government benefits. Women are majorly contributing in land use for productive purpose, with their names in FRA titles, economic empowerment and within home bargaining power increases. Governments are taking initiatives to provide support through various departmental schemes for land utilization for food security.

In your view, What has been the impact of FRA on forest rights discourse in India?

FRA seeks to democratise forest and resource governance in India. Community forest resources recognized under FRA constitute a new category of forests to be governed and managed by the Gram Sabhas and forest rights holders. This is a new paradigm of forest governance which is rights based and which truly recognize and establish the legal authority of Gram Sabhas and local communities over governance and management of forests. It is now estimated that at least 40 m ha of forest land (more than 50 percent of forests) can be vested as CFRs under FRA benefitting 20 crore people, including almost 9 crore tribals living in about 170,000 villages. In last ten years FRA implementation has achieved recognition of only 3-5 percent of the CFR rights. Even then the early gains, as discussed above, show the radical potential of FRA to transform forest governance,  ensure livelihood security and poverty alleviation, achieve gender justice and ecological sustainability, address climate change issues, and create opportunity to address land and resource related conflicts in tribal areas. Not only that, FRA can help the government to meet with the SDGs, national and international conservation goals (CBD), commitments on climate change mitigation and adaptation (INDCs).

in terms of governance, Pinaki, how do you analyse the conflicting policies vis-a-vis FRA and what are the ways to address them?

Recognising long-standing communal rights, even if not formalized, prevents individualization. Decisions for conversion of forest villages into revenue villages – this is a priority area for the government's’ compliance. Clarification on institutional responsibilities, which will definitely help in better implementation of the FRA provisions with improved role clarity. Decision to refer back large scale rejection cases for reconsideration/ rectification by DLC. Checking the balance between implementing the provisions of individual forest rights (IFR) and community forest rights (CFR).

Soma, regarding governance of the Act, what is your perspective?

Governance of forests and decision making about use and benefits from resources has hitherto been a male domain of decision making in tribal societies, while women perform the day to day role of management of forests and maintenance of ecological balance. Forests also provide the food and nutrition security and the health security for tribal communities which are seldom recognized in the discourse of forest governance and  rights. The FRA provisions for women being at least a third of the decision making bodies at community levels is an important  means to giving voice and priority to these everyday relations with forests for the livelihoods needs and  for the ecological management of forests. When forests provide the mainstay of household needs that women manage it is unlikely that they will destroy forest wealth and ecological balance. Which is why when we see evidence of women withdrawing from roles in forest protection it is a deep sense of alienation where they have been ousted from their traditional access and their needs have been denied such as in UK.

Tushar, how do you analyse the conflicting policies vis-a-vis FRA and what are the ways to address them?

Host of conflicting laws, policies and programs are implemented by the central and state govts which undermine the rights and authorities vested under FRA. Some of these conflicting laws are a) diversion of forest lands under Forest Conservation Act without adhering to FRA provisions, b) Enactment of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 and Rules 2018 providing transfer of the accumulated CA funds of about 66,000 crores to the forest dept for carrying out CA projects in violation of FRA and PESA, c) proposal for creation of land banks for industrial and compensatory afforestation purposes including revenue forest lands on which tribals have got legal rights under FRA, d) new Draft National Forest Policy 2018 undermining the FRA and proposing to open up forest lands for commercial plantations, e) violation of forest rights and relocations from protected areas, f) operation of working plans, joint forest management programs conflicting with CFR rights. These laws conflict with the basic structure of forest governance created under FRA. There is a need for the central government to initiate a process for reviewing conflicting laws and policies of the central and state government to harmonise with FRA, issue directions to the authorities (particularly the forest departments) to comply with FRA provisions in operation of forest laws and programs, set up institutional mechanism for coordination between MoTA and MoEF to work on conflicting laws and to address rights violations arising due to the conflicts.

What is your view on this Soma?

I agree with Tushar, there is a need  for serious review. The state has passed several legislations that are in contradiction of  the provisions of FRA. Legal and policy announcements contradictory to the FRA have led to a new set of conflicts in regions already ridden with strife due to the denial of these basic rights. Problems persist especially in outlier states, where women continue to be targeted for encroachments in PA areas of Assam and Chattisgarh. Communities in Niyamgiri have resisted the diversion of their forests and water resources. In Telangana Chattisgarh and  UK women have been at the receiving end of violence as they resist forest rights violations due to diversion of forest lands and demand that norms related to consent be followed before development projects are implemented.

 

The Compensatory Afforestation Act operates as a triple whammy for women

a) it empowers the FD with resources from forest resources from resources which should actually liee with the Gram sabha  in PESA areas for  communities  to determine whether forests should in fact be diverted and how such resources should be used.

b) the loss of forest cover in the first instance impacts community livelihoods needs and  increases stress and burden for women to forage for fuelwood and fodder and food

c) and the diversion of common lands denies communities access to such commons and to its resources. Companies undertake plantation forestry often of species contrary to the interests of biodiversity and to community interests as reported from Mizoram (palm oil). Communities seldom benefit from these initiatives.

The FRA is a constitutional reality and it  is about time that all the actors in state realize its significance and Forest and Development plan take these into cognizance and ensure  that rights are not thwarted and ecologies are rendered sustainable with peoples active engagement in the governance of forests.   

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