Beyond Land Titles, Towards Resilience
This report was published by Oxfam India in November 2020. Its authors are Rajita Kurup and Sreetama Gupta Bhaya – researchers at the organisation.
The enactment of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2006 was a
watershed moment in the history of the forest rights movement in India, states
the report. The Act aims to recognise and record the existing rights of
Adivasis and forest dwelling communities, as well as facilitate their political
right to govern forests for sustainable use and conservation. However, several communities
still face issues in exercising the rights mandated by the Act.
Oxfam India’s experience and reflections on the implementation of the FRA in 35
villages of the Sundarpahari block of Godda District in Jharkhand. They began working
there in 2012, aiming to help secure Adivasi rights to govern and conserve
forests for livelihood and ecological security.
The 22-page report has six chapters: Introduction
(chapter 1); Climate change affecting livelihoods – the Indian context (chapter
2); Forests – a lifeline (chapter 4); Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis; The
Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest
Rights) Act, 2006 (chapter 5); and The case of Jharkhand (chapter 6).
The researchers point out that nearly 50 per cent of India’s population is employed in agriculture, and that the sector is currently under severe stress due to extreme weather conditions and other problems. Further, about 300 million people in rural India depend on forests for supplemental incomes.
The report says that nearly 75 per cent of rural Adivasi households – about 15 million households and 70 million Adivasis – come under the ‘deprived’ category in the Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011. Their vulnerability is further impacted by the constant threat of displacement and land alienation due to the diversion of forest areas for other purposes. The major livelihood sources among Adivasi communities are agriculture and minor forest produce.
Forest-dwelling communities had been managing and conserving India’s forests using traditional knowledge long before they came under the State’s purview. The State overlooked traditional systems, leading to decline in community institutions and managed ecosystems. If implemented fully, the FRA can be instrumental in reviving such institutions.
Community-based forest management and conservation, as well as the use of traditional knowledge, are important for the maintenance of biodiversity in forests and ensuring a sustainable source of forest produce. The FRA aims to facilitate such community-driven forest governance.
Government agencies, such as Forest Departments, can use the FRA to constructively engage with forest-dwelling communities for management and conservation, since such departments rarely have enough staff to monitor the entire landscape. According to the India State of Forest Report of 2019, forests make up 21.7 per cent of India’s total geographical area.
The FRA addresses the issue of tenurial rights for forest dwelling communities. The report states that the government of India’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs – which is responsible for ensuring the Act’s implementation – does not adequately enforce the procedures to be followed when community resources or lands covered under the Act are diverted for infrastructure projects.
The Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) of 1980 prescribes the procedure for diverting forest lands for non-forest purposes. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – the FCA’s nodal agency – linked the FRA and FCA through circulars passed in 2009, and the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Rules of 2017. The Rules make the written consent of gram sabhas mandatory for such diversion.
Other legislations also influence the decision to divert forest lands, such as the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957. This Act has no provisions involving communities in making decisions about forest diversions.
Focus and Factoids by Sunita D’Sa Prabhu.
Rajita Kurup and Sreetama Gupta Bhaya