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Forest Rights Visit to Odisha

08 July 2015 Share: facebook share twitter share

From 8-10 July, PACS in collaboration with Odisha's State Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) organised an exposure visit for 5 senior functionaries from the Government of Jharkhand to Odisha, to learn about some of the innovative approaches that the Government of Odisha has adopted to effectively implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

Some members of the exchange visit stand in front of the entrance to Simlipal Wild Life Sanctuary and tiger reserve in Odisha.

The FRA in Jharkhand and Odisha

Since it was launched, there has been very poor implementation of the FRA in Jharkhand. As a result, we have facilitated the formation of a civil society network - Jharkhand Van Adhikar Manch (JVAM) – to advocate for better FRA implementation.

Thanks to our advocacy work, PACS and JVAM are working together with the Government of Jharkhand on a FRA claim generation campaign to expedite FRA claims.

Meanwhile, Odisha is one of the better performing states on FRA implementation especially on Community Forest Rights (CFR). In view of this, the PACS teams in Jharkhand and Odisha planned an exposure visit to take a team of government officials from Jharkhand to visit and learn from the initiatives of the Odishan government.

An official visit

The Government of Jharkhand sent a high level committee of 5 people on the exposure visit, including officials from the Forest Department and the Department of Welfare. Officials from the Government of Odisha's Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development Department provided orientation and facilitated the field programme.

Senior team members from PACS, including the State Managers from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha, joined the visit for cross-learning and to bring a national perspective on FRA implementation.

The exchange trip visited the Simlipal Tiger Reserve - a core forest area of the Mayurbhanj district – where community forest rights have been recognised, thanks to the successful collaboration between Vasundhara (a civil society organisation working on forest rights in Odisha) and the Government of Odisha.

Exchanging ideas

From discussions it became clear that the SCSTRTI is taking clear ownership of FRA implementation in Odisha, which is not the case in other states. 

The Odishan government has also engaged staff from local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to become mobilisers in each block, helping to raise awareness in communities and to strengthen Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) and Gram Sabhas (village-level councils).

A monthly fee is paid to these mobilisers by the Government – 5000 rupees as an honorarium and 500 rupees as administrative costs. This was encouraging for our Jharkhand Team as JVAM is set to play the same role in Jharkhand with our team of Van Adhikar Mitras as community facilitators.

In addition, the Odishan Government has allowed districts to hire retired and young Amins (village-level Revenue Officers) and Revenue Inspectors (RIs), especially for the purpose of FRA work. They are playing an important role in speeding up the verification process, which used to be slow due to the shortage of human resources.

Mapping was another key issue that was discussed.  In Odisha, maps showing both forest and revenue land are made available to FRCs through a FRA cell. In addition, Geographic Information System (GIS) cells based at Tahsildar level also play a critical role in map generation, making evidence available which, in turn, supports faster claim generation.

The visitors share and exchange ideas on forest rights. The visitors share and exchange ideas on forest rights.

The important role of civil society

The group learnt how the role of Vasundhara in the implementation of the FRA in Odisha has been crucial. Vasundhara have provided technical support to the Government of Odisha, including knowledge, capacity building, and perspective enhancement on the FRA.

Vasundhara also shared their experience in helping Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) to map their traditional boundaries and habitats by holding extensive discussions and then using this oral data to help them to file CFR claims.

Learning from forest communities

The group also met with members of Bilapagha village inside the Simlipal Tiger Reserve. The village is one of the first examples from across India where a community living inside the “Core Area” of a national park has received a CFR title.

Maheswar Nayak, one of the villagers, said “Earlier we were banned from collecting minor forest produce, grazing, and collecting herbs and small timber but following our claim for CFR we are now free to access them without any restriction from the forest department. This is our forest and we shall manage it in a more sustainable manner than it was earlier. We cannot live without the forest and the forest cannot survive without us.”

This learning was particularly useful for our Chhattisgarh Team as the state has many parks and tiger reserves, and there have been cases of people being evicted from forests in spite of receiving their Individual Forest Rights titles.

Going forward

Overall, the exposure visit provided a great learning opportunity for everyone involved. It was agreed that, in order to effectively implement the FRA, it is essential to establish mechanisms for periodic review and to agree corrective steps where necessary.

Staff from the PACS Odisha office were able to strengthen their collaboration with officials from the ST/SC Development Department. Together they will be scaling up CFR intervention in 9 districts of Odisha.

The Jharkhand Government officials are keen to explore the possibility of setting up a Tribal Research Institute (similar to the SCSTRTI) as a resource center on FRA. The PACS state team have said they are happy to provide technical support in that respect. In addition, the Jharkhand Government realise that they need to make resources, like maps, available to FRCs. 

For Chhattisgarh and Bihar, an inter-state exposure visit to Odisha for community based organisations working on forest rights has been discussed. In addition the PACS team in Chhattisgarh will be exploring partnering with Vasundhara and learning from their expertise.

Update (30 July 2015)

Based on the learnings from the exposure visit, critical decisions have already been taken by the Government of Jharkhand and the following government orders have been issued:

  1. An order for a training calendar for Van Mitras (Forest Friends), members of Forest Rights Committees and block level functionaries.
  2. A directive to District Collectors to speed up FRA claims, in particular Community Forest Rights claims.
  3. An order to set up a state FRA cell and district FRA cells.

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