Oxfam India works with grassroots partners and networks on securing access and control over forest land and resources for marginalised communities through the Forest Rights Act (FRA). At the national level it supports the Community Forest Rights Learning and Advocacy process (CFR-LA), in capacity building, advocacy and knowledge generation on community forest rights. As part of the process we hold an annual consultation on Community Forest Resource Rights (CFR) provisions of the Forest Rights Act 2006 each year. The consultation was held in Delhi on 11th and 12th December, 2015. Over 80 participants from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujrat, Goa, Odisha, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh involved in the implementation of CFRs directly or indirectly attended the consultation. Participants included community members from tribal communities, nomadic pastoralists, particularly vulnerable tribal groups, other traditional forest dependent communities, in addition to civil society organisations, jan andolans, researchers and others. The consultation was also attended by three MPs: Shri Binoy Viswam - National Executive Committee Member of CPI and Former Forest Minster of Government of Kerala, Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste, BJP, representing Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. He is also the member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Welfare of SCs and STs. He has been a patron of Akhil Bharatiya Gond Sangh since 1998 and Ms. Kotapalli Geetha, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, representing Aruku Constituency in Andhra Pradesh who assured us of their cooperation in addressing the issues that emerged in the meeting.
From the updates and issues that were shared by the participants it was apparent that even after eight years of implementation of the Act recognition of CFR rights remains slow and tardy, except in a few pockets in the country. Participants collectively observed that this was because of extremely weak political and administrative will and support towards implementing the law. Four major underlying reasons were felt to be the cause of this weak Will to implement the law; Macro-economic policies in favour of industrial development; Strong push from the forest establishment to retain and reassert their control over the forests; Continuing faith in exclusionary conservation policies; and finally the state nodal agencies financially and human resource wise not strong enough to deal with the impacts of the above factors.
Some of the key recommendations that emerged for action by the nodal ministry and other actors
- MoTA needs to take stronger action to ensure that the implementation of the Act begins in the states where it has not begun or where it is moving very slowly, such as Uttarkhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, among others.
- The ministry needs to coordinate with the state governments to create district wise baseline data on potential CFRs. This data needs to be used as a benchmark to assess and monitor reports being sent by the states on the FRA implementation status.
- MoTA needs to intervene with the MoEFCC to withdraw the guidelines issued for privatization of forests in violation of the FRA. Following the guidelines some states have already planned meetings with the private companies to work out MoUs, e.g Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Considering that these forests for which these MoUs are being drafted are potential of existing CFRs, an intervention is urgent.
- It is clear from the data on MoTA’s website that the reporting from the states’ is still not in the prescribed format, giving disaggregated information on Community Rights (Section 3 (1)), Community Forest Resource Rights (Section 3 (1)i) and Development Rights (Section 3 (2)).
For nodal agencies of the State government:
- The state nodal agencies must translate and make available to all FRCs, SDLCs and DLCs all the clarifications and guidelines that the MoTA has issued for the implementation of FRA. This includes clarifications on seeming contradictions on other laws. Nodal agencies must ensure that these clarifications are adhered to by all concerned departments of the state government.
- Nodal agencies need to support facilitators who can help gram sabhas in the filing claim. These facilitators need to be well trained and well versed with the provisions and processes under the Act. They must have an experience of having worked with gram sabhas and need to work closely with the local people’s movements and/or civil society groups also engaged in facilitating CFRs in their region or other regions in the state.
- District wise data on claims filed and rights recognised needs to be collated and provided to MoTA in the prescribed format. This data must provide separate information on individual rights and community rights under Section 3 (1), rights under 3 (1) i and development facilities being provided under 3 (2) of FRA.
For the Collective Action of the participants and other civil society actors
- Civil society groups need to generate a Community Forest Resources Movement by coordinating all our efforts at the local, regional and national levels. A greater coordination between local people, people’s movements, civil society groups, academics, researchers, etc is the need of the hour. Different people with different capacities and different strengthens need to come together for the Movement.