The Planning Commission’s expert group on development challenges in LWE identified denial of forest rights and resulting harassment, eviction and impoverishment of forest dwellers as one key part of the overall development and governance failure in these areas.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA), which was enacted to undo the historical injustice committed against the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional dwellers, is therefore a critical priority for empowerment of these communities and an improvement in their standard of living.
Lets focus on Chhattisgarh, a state where 30.5% of the population are Scheduled tribes (as per the 2011 census) and a state where the forest & tree cover is 44% of it’s geographical area. Ever since the state’s formation in 2000, the state has seen a rather steady decline in the overall forest cover area (as per the http://fsi.nic.in/). So for a state like Chhattisgarh, the implementation of the FRA act is very crucial for the overall well being of the state.
But wait, how do the people exercise this right?
A summarized version of the process
- Create the Gram Sabhas & Formation of the forest rights committees
- Prepare the record of claims and evidence including maps etc.
- Duly acknowledge the claims in writing by the Forest Rights Committee
- Forest Rights Committees verifies the claims
- Sent to the Higher Committees (Sub-Divisional Level Committee, Divisional Level Committee etc).
So now let’s look at the FRA implementation status report as of 2015 for Chhattisgarh.
- Total number of claims received: 8,17,809
- Total number of titles deeds distributed/ ready: 3,36,590
- % of titles distributed over number of claims received: 41.15%
- Out of 24 districts, 18 are LWE affected districts with 8177 villages
- FRCs formed in 7,727 villages
- Number of claims received from LWE villages – 4,74,729
- Number of claims approved – 1,96,292
- Number of claims rejected – 2,54,107
- Number of community claims received – 10039
- Number of claims approved – 5039
- Number of claims rejected – 3318
Further more, more than 50% of the claims were rejected.
Some observations (lapses) as noted by the Tribal Ministry in following the due process of FRA implementation
- State has not initiated the process of recognition of Community Forest Rights.
- The State has to chalk out it’s strategy to mobilize CFR claims via the Gram Sabhas
- Rights recognition has not been started in the protected areas
- The average area recognized under community rights in the state is around 0.2 ha which is very less compared to other states
- Since members of forest rights committee are mostly illiterate, proper proceedings, and writing and record keeping process has suffered badly
- In 450 villages, FRCs could not be constituted due to Naxal activities
- Setting up of deadlines is creating confusion and panic within community.
- State should clarify the position through circulars at the State and District Level
There is a great rush to provide a single window clearance for projects requiring environmental clearance and an equally greater push to get things done with in 100 days. If the administration shows the same sense of urgency and same sense of efficiency in protecting the environment and protecting the rights of forest dwellers, then Chhattisgarh would not only be mineral rich but also economically rich
The Chhattisgarh police has set a target to end Naxalism in the state by 2016, wish they had set a target to facilitate the smooth functioning of Gram Sabha’s and enabled and empower them to be more effective