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Chhattisgarh FRA Consultation

05 August 2015 Share: facebook share twitter share

On 5 August, PACS organised a state-level consultation on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in Chhattisgarh. More than 200 people attended the event, including community members, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and government personnel from the Department for Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development, to discuss their issues and concerns about forest rights applications in the state.

A poor record of FRA implementation

The first half of the event involved a discussion about forest rights in Chhattisgarh, which has a poor record of FRA implementation.

As presented by Rebecca David – PACS State Manager for Chhattisgarh – only 8399 Community Forest Rights (CFR) titles have been granted in the state since the Forest Rights Act was passed in 2006, whilst 8851 CFR claims have been rejected. With Individual Forest Rights (IFR) titles, although 3,45,279 have been distributed, the rejection rate has been 56.72%.

Members from the Department of Tribal Affairs, including the Deputy Commissioner and the Tribal Secretary for Chhattisgarh, acknowledged that the status of forest rights claims, especially CFR claims, has been very slow and more work needs to be done to improve this.

Mr K Murugan – Tribal Secretary for Chhattisgarh – addresses the gathering, helping to clarify issues and discrepancies regarding forest rights claims.Mr K Murugan – Tribal Secretary for Chhattisgarh – addresses the gathering, helping to clarify issues and discrepancies regarding forest rights claims.

Community testimonies

Several community members and Forest Rights Committees were able to present case studies from their villages to show the challenges they have faced in filing and waiting for their IFR and CFR claims to be settled.

Government officials gave them a patient hearing and assured them that they will take action. Staff from PACS and other NGOs were asked to report cases that have not been addressed at district level despite repeated follow-ups.

Some of the community members’ testimonies said that districts were not accepting their claims stating that the deadline to receive applications was over. The Tribal Secretary, Mr K Murugan, clarified that there is no deadline for FRA claims to be filed if they are genuine.

Later in the day, the Tribal Secretary interacted with different community members and participants and asked them about implementation issues and different hurdles they faced. Many community members shared their views passionately and urged the Secretary to take immediate action.

A community member shares the issues and challenges he has faced in applying for forest rights. A community member shares the issues and challenges he has faced in applying for forest rights.

A country-wide perspective

In the second half of the consultation, a panel discussion on FRA implementation across the country was conducted. Rajpal Panwar – PACS Project Manager on Forest Rights - shared national level issues, followed by a series of speakers from other states.

Mr Bibhor Deo from Vasundhara – a forest rights NGO working in Odisha - shared how, in Odisha, FRA implementation has taken place collaboratively with the Government and NGOs. Notably the Government of Odisha has given a CFR title to a community living in the Simlipal Tiger Reserve. This contrasts with Chhattisgarh where people are being evicted from all National Parks and Sanctuaries and their FRA claims are not being entertained.

Keshav Gurnule from NGO SHRISHTI then shared experiences from the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra where a high number of CFR titles have been given. He also spoke about how Minor Forest Produce (MFP) like tendu and bamboo is managed successfully through cooperatives and local communities in Maharashtra whereas, in Chhattisgarh, state agencies have monopoly over these high value MFPs.

Government letters on FRA

Mr Anupam Trivedi, Officer on Special Duty – FRA, also gave a presentation, sharing letters that were issued by the Additional Chief Secretary for Tribal Development on 27 July 2015 to all District Collectors in Chhattisgarh.

One of the letters instructs Gram Sabhas (village meetings) to be held by 15 August 2015. Following these Gram Sabhas, a letter must be written stating that all IFR and CFR claims have been settled in the village and, if not, the reasons why

Another important letter talks about the formation of FRA cells at the district-level to settle claims. It highlights the need to pay attention to CFR and Other Traditional Forest Dweller claims, and to increase training and capacities at Gram Sabha level so that village members can file more claims.

Mr Trivedi also spoke about plans to re-look at all rejected claims, to check that the rejections are genuine. Gram Sabhas will be asked to issue statements and the final decision will be communicated by Sub Divisional Level Committees to the claimants.

PACS will follow up on the consultation with the Department of Tribal Affairs and a report of an ongoing study by PACS on FRA implementation will be submitted to the Department at the end of the month.

Mr Anupam Trivedi, Officer on Special Duty – FRA, addresses the audience, telling them about the recent government letters that have been issued to all District Collectors on forest rights. Mr Anupam Trivedi - Officer on Special Duty – FRA - addresses the audience, telling them about the recent government letters that have been issued to all District Collectors on forest rights.

Update: 13 August 2015

At our FRA consultation it was brought to our attention that Gram Sabhas in Chhattisgarh were being rushed to settle Individual and Community forest rights claims due to orders from the state government. We felt that this time pressure on Gram Sabhas would result in the correct process - which should be participatory - not being followed.

Our partners subsequently highlighted this issue to government ministers and we are pleased that the Government of India's Ministry of Tribal Affairs has taken corrective steps by directing states not to rush the implementation of the Forest Rights Actproclaiming that any such circulars are a violation of the Forest Right Act and also violate the rights of tribal communities and other forest dwellers.

The Additional Chief Secretary for the Department of Tribal Affairs in Chhattisgarh issued a new letter to District Collectors on 13 August 2015, clarifying that the letter circulated on 27 July has been nullified and that Gram Sabhas do not have to give a statement on FRA claim settlement by 15 August.

Part of the letter issued to District Collectors by the Government of Chhattisgarh on 13 August to nullify their earlier letter on 27 July, which had put a very tight deadline on forest rights claim settlements. Part of the letter issued to District Collectors by the Government of Chhattisgarh on 13 August to nullify their earlier letter on 27 July, which had put a very tight deadline on forest rights claim settlements.

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