Chhattisgarh Recognises CFR Rights – A First Since FRA’s inception

Chhattisgarh Recognises CFR Rights – A First Since FRA’s inception

On 9 Aug 2020, the Chhattisgarh government formally recognised the Community Forest Resource Rights (CFRR) of 54 villages across 10 districts to mark the occasion of World Indigenous Day in the state. This also included the first instance in the country where CFRR rights were recognised in a Tiger Reserve (Sitanadi-Udanti TR in Dhamtari) and Individual Forest Rights (IFR) were recognised in a municipality(Jagdalpur).

This is a big win for the forest rights alliance in Chhattisgarh that has been fighting for the rights for more than a decade now. What is encouraging is that the state government has promised to continue and speed up the CFRR recognition process in the state, which has more than 4.65 lakhs pending claims including IFR titles.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 is a historic Act that turned a corner in recognising the rights of adivasis and other forest dependent communities in managing and conserving forest resources. However, its implementation has been anything but satisfactory. According to a 2019 TISS report on FRA implementation, in the last 10 years since the FRA rules were framed, only 15.29% of the potential forest area (both individual and community forest rights) have been recognised nationally till November 2018.

The story of Chhattisgarh is no different, even if it is regarded as one of the best performing states in the country. Although the state claims to have distributed 30,000 of the 35,000 CFR (Community Forest Rights) claims filed, it should be noted that hardly any of these were CFRR rights or management rights, without which the Act is rendered hollow. Jabarra (in Dhamtari district) became the first village in Chhattisgarh to have been awarded CFRR rights as late as in 2019. Since then, it is the biggest occasion where so many CFRR titles were recognised by any state of the country.

Of the 54 villages which were awarded with the CFRR titles, three villages were supported by Oxfam India through its partner NGOs Chaupal and KHOJ in Surguja and Gariaband districts, respectively. In Udaipur block of Surguja, CFRR rights for 748 Ha and 1248 Ha were recognised in Bule and Bankesma villages, respectively. The success of this long drawn battle came after Oxfam India and Chaupal fought for their rights for eight long years. This involved community mobilisations, technical support in filing claims, alliance meetings, consultations, advocacy at block, district, state level and sometimes even indefinite strikes.

In 2013, the administration had awarded 38 CFR titles. However, Chaupal and Oxfam India did not give up on this notional victory and kept fighting for their management rights till its fruition in 2020. A similar movement for forest rights recognition is in process in Gariaband and Dhamtari where Oxfam India and KHOJ have been working since 2015. Constant struggle on ground and administrative spaces have finally secured CFRR rights for Bade Gobra village, while also opening up the pathway to similar rights recognition for other programme villages in the area.

Like Surguja, Bade Gobra too was superficially given 204 Ha of CFR rights in Dec 2015 but thanks to KHOJ’s unrelenting resolve and struggle, it has been revised to 2630 Ha of management rights—the largest area secured among the 54 villages and the only village to be given CFRR rights in Gariaband district. Although the CFRR titles have been awarded only now, the respective Gram Sabhas have been voluntarily managing (through CFM committees) and conserving their forest resources ever since they received the CFR titles.

The journey from CFR to CFRR has been made possible by continual demands for the same by Chhattisgarh Van Adhikar Manch and Oxfam India, which played a key role in capacity building of NGOs and government personnel involved in rights recognition; holding consultations with the tribal and forest department, and regularly advocating for CFRR rights recognition as envisaged in the FRA Act.

Chhattisgarh has one of the highest population of tribals in the country, most of whom still reside in forest geographies. The irony is despite inhabiting the areas where the richest natural resources are found, they continue to remain poor and marginalised because of discriminatory state and national policies that prioritize a lop-sided model of economic development which in turn is fed by highly extractive and unsustainable corporate interest. In this context, the state government’s active steps in the direction of resource rights recognition will contribute towards building resilience for these forest dependent communities.

The latest IPCC report also reinforces the fact that customary access to land has multiple positive outcomes for increased adaptive capacities, food security and ecological security. Therefore, the State government’s intention to prioritise community rights in the coming days is a welcome step towards materialising the FRA act in letter and spirit.

 

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