The Case of Incomplete CFR Titles of Arjuni Village

The Case of Incomplete CFR Titles of Arjuni Village

On 13 February 2019 Supreme Court, hearing a decade-old petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, issued an order stating “claimants whose claims have been rejected and have attained finality should be evicted”. This would have meant eviction of nearly 18.92 lakh forest dwelling families; communities would be stripped off their rights over the forests that are their only source of livelihood.

However, owing to pressure from the centre and the states, SC stayed the order and required the states to submit responses within four months. The SC will hear the case on July 24.

Historic injustice will be repeated if forestdwellers are evicted from their homes without examining the reasons for the rejections of claims. The Act does not have any provision for eviction of rejected claimants rather Section 4(5) specifically prohibits eviction until the process of implementation is fully complete in an area.

The fate of individuals and communities hangs in balance. One such village is Arjuni in Dhamtari in Chhattisgarh.

Village: Arjuni, Block Nagri, District Dhamtari
Population: 200
Scheduled Tribe Households: 28
Other Traditional Forest Dweller Households: 10
No of household: 38

CFR claim filed: 7 October 2014
Area Claimed: 881 hectares
Area received: 137.36 hectares
Area granted for: Firewood and Grazing

NTFP collected traditionally by community:

  • Mahua seeds which is call torei is used for making oil. The leaves are used to make plates. The flowers are fermented for alcohol.
  • Sarei (sal) seeds for making oil, both for cooking and lighting up lamps
  • Chaar fruit which sells for 120 Rs a kg (like chironji)
  • Harra seed used in making ayurvedic medicine (constipation related)
  • Behera seed used in making ayurvedic medicine
  • Amla
  • Kusum fruits
  • Tendu leaves for making bidi and leaf plates
  • Kanda (root tubers)
  • Mushroom
  • Grass for making broom
  • Firewood

Water Bodies: There are four ponds, one river and few streams

Biodiversity (Flora/Fauna): Sal, tendu, bamboo, amla, sajja, harra, brehera,

CFR Claim Process:

  • The Forest Rights Committee (FRC) put up its recommendation for filing of CFR before the Gram Sabha on 7 October 2014.
  • It was approved the same day and it was forwarded to the Division Level Committee (DLC).
  • The GPS mapping was done with the help of the NGO, KHOJ Samiti.
  • There was no conflict with neighbouring villages while mapping the forest area as the traditional boundaries were clearly marked by the munnara (a cemented structure) on one side and river and streams on other sides.
  • Failing to get any response, the Gram Sabha wrote a letter on 20 February 2015 to the district administration that the forest department was yet to carry out field verification of the claim submitted.

Rights Claimed

  • Nistar Rights
  • Bamboo, Honey, Tassar, herbs and medicinal plants, Mool Kand, Lak, Tendu patta etc. including all non-timber forest produce
  • River water from Arjuni river and different springs
  • Four ponds - Mata Dewala, Dharinaar, Tilai Bharri and Kalkassaa Talab
  • Four hills - Arjuni pahad, Lohakhaan, Dihee Gudkari, Bheemsan Gutkuri
  • Grazing rights
  • Conservation, Protection and Regeneration of their traditionally demarcated community forest  resources
  • Sacred  Sites
  • Access to Biodiversity  access community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge

Rights Recognised:

  • Firewood
  • grazing

Area Recognised: 137.36 hectares were recognised in total. It was demarcated by forest department based on their compartments (demarcation that forest department uses). They have not yet received the compartment map from forest department. There were no reasons given on non-recognition of more than 700 ha.

Gross Violation of FRA:

In the CFR title document, the state government imposed conditions over the CFR holders claiming to be under Section 5 of FRA.

  • Not to cut nationalised trees
  • No hunting
  • To take out only fallen and dry wood for firewood purposes
  • To help forest department in controlling fire.
  • To inform forest department in case of fire
  • To help forest department in their work
  • Minor forest produce to be utilised without destroying it. 
  • Grazing is permitted only seasonally and not between July to October

What Sec 5 actually does:

Section 5 of FRA empowers the Gram Sabha to do the  following:

(a) protect the wildlife, forest and biodiversity;

(b) ensure that adjoining catchments area, water sources and other ecological sensitive areas are adequately protected;

(c) ensure that the habitat of forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers is preserved from any form of destructive practices affecting their cultural and natural heritage;

(d) ensure that the decisions taken in the Gram Sabha to regulate access to community forest resources and stop any activity which adversely affects the wild animals, forest and the biodiversity are complied with.

Appeal filed: The Gram sabha appealed against the decision of non- recognition of the complete traditional boundary. There has been no response to appeal till date.

How Arjuni Conserves and Protects its Forest: Though the area recognised was lesser that what was claimed, the community still continue to access and protect the forest as per the traditional boundary. So far, they have not faced any harassment from any authority.

In Arjuni village the community carries out regular patrolling of the forest to check for fire, encroachments and poaching. Three to four people go in shifts every day to the forest for patrolling. They even carry out night patrolling as well. Fire is one of the biggest threats to the forest. Bidi and cigarette buds are major cause for fire.

With the monsoon set to start soon, the villagers are ready with seed balls to be dispersed in the empty patches of the forest.  These are torei (mahua seeds), char, sarei (sal), bahera, kusum etc. These are species that are indigenous to the forest of this region and these are the trees that shape the existence of the community. Many seeds are used for producing oil, both medicinal and edible.

The young Gram Sabha president, Dinesh Yadav, says “We want full claim over our forest. We want the support of authority to build check dams in the rivers and streams within our traditional boundary so that we can conserve soil and moisture and use water for irrigation.”

It is difficult for them to imagine that they do not have complete access to the forest which has been a part of their and their ancestors lives. “It is our forest, and we should have complete ownership right over it. We will protect it and demand what is rightfully ours.”

 

- Akoijam Sunita
(Inputs: Sreetama Gupta Bhaya & Savvy Soumya Misra)

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