National Research Study on Implementation of Forest Rights Act in Neighboring States of Odisha

Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or in short, the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, is one of the most important and popular Entitlement based laws ever enacted in India favouring the tribal and other traditional forest dwellers’ rights over forest land. 

The Rules for implementing the Act was framed in 2008 and further amended the Rules in 2012. The enabling provisions contained in the FRA seek to redress the historical injustice done to the forest dwelling people whose rights had not been legally recognized and recorded and who were denied their traditional rights to forest lands and resources in legislations prior to FRA. In spite of the lofty aims of the Act, recognition of the rights of the forest dwellers to live in the forest and use its resources as well as making it a duty for the forest dwelling communities to protect, regenerate, conserve and manage forest resources sustainably, there have been critical shortcomings in their implementation. The benefits of the Act have not been realized by the target communities to the level of expectation.

In this context critics and questions arise how to identify the gaps between the set objectives of FRA, and ground realities of its implementation. Are the benefits of the FRA accessible to the marginalized? Are the later aware about the Act and know how to realize their rights? Is the Institutional mechanism properly in place to take forward the implementation strategically and in a process guided manner so as to extend access to goods and services? Is there any good practice for replication? What are the critical concerns? Are there any remedies for those?  Possibly, the exploratory research findings have some answer to these questions. 

On the whole to look at the implementation of the FRA, 2006 and to analyze its impact on the poor STs and marginalized and to identify the hindrances in FRA implementation the SCSTRTI, Bhubaneswar commissioned a National Research Study on Implementation of Forest Rights Act in Neighbouring States of Odisha. This research study was conducted in 2012-13 in three neighbouring states; Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha with financial support from Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GOI, New Delhi, and ST & SC Development Department, Govt. of Odisha, and Technical supports from Vasundhara and Foundation for Ecological Security  (FES), Bhubaneswar on outsourcing basis. 

It has been organized into 5 Chapters. Besides, there are contents, bibliography, Annexures and photographs section. ‘Chapter- I’ deals with Introduction, ‘Chapter-II’ provides literature review and Chapter III discusses research methodology, ‘Chapter-IV’ presents a comparative analysis and study findings and synthesis, and the last but not the least, ‘Chapter-V’ recommends suggestions for effective implementation of FRA. The report is based on primary sources of data collected through field investigation at the study villages and interview with members of different SDLCs, DLCs and PRI representatives and Official of ST Development Departments, Forest and Revenue departments, and case studies. Available secondary sources of information were consulted and incorporated assessing their relevance in the context of study. The report presents some interesting findings in shape of good practices which could be replicated and gray areas that could be readdressed.

The study looks at some good practices in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha subsequent to the FRA Amendment Rules, 2012. Mostly, these States have followed up with reconstitution of Forest Rights Committees. There has been considerable progress on recognition of individual rights. The state of Odisha retains its top rank in the country in distribution of titles to individuals under FRA. In Odisha special sensitization training for all concerned officers were done though the SCSTRTI. The district administration in Kandhmal and Mayurbhanj with active involvement of civil society organizations followed a model process for delineation of customary boundaries of the community forest resources, which helped expediting the recognition of CFR. The Government of Chhattisgarh has taken a progressive step of issuing genealogy certificates to local communities as a proof of period of residency in a particular area for facilitating evidence especially for OTFD claims and decided to consider all rejected claims afresh. Andhra Pradesh government made good use of technology (GIS) in demarcating individual and community areas with near accuracy level.

On the contrary, the study highlights critical areas, like inadequate awareness on FRA provisions at the Forest Rights Committee level, Gram Sabha and PRI functionaries level as a major stumbling block in proper implementation of the FRA. Recognition of community rights, PTG habitat rights and rights over seasonal landscapes of pastoralists and nomadic communities has not been encouraging. Active participation of women in FRC and the rights recognition process is found abysmally low. In all the study states, there have been procedural lapses with regard to the entire claim filing and recognition process, maintenance and custody of records and role of Gramsabha is undermined in many cases. In Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the rate of rejection is more than 50 % and all rejections have taken place at the level of Gramsabha.  Besides, the FRA implementation investigation in the field has come across with incidences of injustices made to the people, individually and communally, like marginalization of Gram Sabha, displaced and deprivation in orange areas, misplaced plots, Ignorance of law and assertion of claim, etc. and these are suitably placed in the report.

Significantly, the study offers suggestions, like implementation of the FRA provisions such as CFR, habitat rights etc. backed by a proper planning process at the state and district level identifying forest interface villages, using GIS tools to map progress, making available maps, documents etc. to the Gramsabhas, extending adequate institutional support and sensitizing  all stakeholders to facilitate FRA implementation, recognizing CR and CFR rights in mission mode employing dedicated support staff and facility, early settling of claims in Protected Areas and ensuring no relocation before settlement , and greater transparency in convergence initiative and mechanisms for grievance redressal of the complaints and petitions. All these taken together suggest how goal of social justice and inclusive development can be achieved in a rights-based framework.