Promise and Performance of Forest Rights Recognition Act, 2006: The Tenth Anniversary Report

As the 29th state of India, Telangana came into existence on 2nd June 2014 with 10 districts of undivided Andhra Pradesh (AP). Recently the Government of Telangana created additional 21 districts, under the Telangana District Formation Act, 1974 and District Formation Rules, 2016, taking the total number to 31. The geographical area of the Telangana state is 1,12,077 sq. km. and the population is 350.04 lakh. The tribal population is 32.87 lakh which comprises 9.34% of the total population of the state. Telangana has 26,904 sq. km. of forest land which is 24% of the total geographical area of the state. The state has 12 protected areas consisting of eight Wild Life Sanctuaries and three National Parks. Two Wild Life Sanctuaries have been notified as Tiger Reserves - Amarabad Tiger Reserve and the Kawal Tiger Reserve. Of 24,904 sq. km. notified forest area, 5,836.04 sq. km. is included in the protected area network. Most of the forest areas of Telangana are located in erstwhile districts of Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad and Mahabubnagar. Tribals are predominantly found in these  districts. Historically, tribal communities have depended on forests for their livelihoods, both for cultivation and forest product collection. Many tribals engage in a form of shifting cultivation in upland forests, called podu.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA henceforth) recognises and vests diverse pre-existing rights over forest land. These include rights over occupied forest land, rights to ownership of Minor Forest Produce (MFP), Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights, rights over produce of water bodies, grazing rights (both for settled and transhumant communities), rights over habitat for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) and other customary rights. The most critical right which has a bearing on forest governance and the welfare of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers is the right over CFRs which provides Gram Sabhas the right to conserve, protect and manage forests.

Based on the available data, it is clear that even after a decade of the implementation of the FRA, especially the CFR rights provision remain deeply lacking in Telangana State. No efficacious step for effective implementation of the FRA has been taken even after bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh state. There has been no effort to estimate the potential areas over which rights under the FRA need to be recognised in the state. Specifically, there is no analysis of how much forest area will come under the jurisdiction and management of Gram Sabhas under the CFR rights provision of the law. Another limitation is that the available data pertains to the erstwhile districts. No data is available for the newly reorganised districts.