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Regional Consultation on FRA

08 August 2015 Share: facebook share twitter share

On 8 August – the eve of International Indigenous People’s Day - PACS and the Government of Jharkhand’s Department of Welfare jointly hosted a regional consultation on the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The event provided an opportunity for regional sharing and learning, highlighting the critical inputs that are necessary to support the better implementation of the FRA in Jharkhand.

Dr Louis Marandi - Honourable Minister for Welfare – emphasises the need for collaboration and convergence between Government and civil society.

Improving FRA implementation in Jharkhand

Historically, Jharkhand has had an extremely poor forest rights implementation record since the FRA was passed in 2006, in particular the recognition of Community Forest Rights (CFRs). However, over the last few months, the Government of Jharkhand has been working with PACS to try and improve this.

In June, the Jharkhand government launched a state-level campaign to improve the claim generation process. Then, in July, PACS organised an exposure visit for Jharkhand government officials to visit Odisha – a state with a better forest rights implementation record – to learn from their experiences.

Mr Johnson Topno - Jharkhand State Manager for PACS – highlighted the improvements that have come about over the past few months as a result of the constructive engagement between civil society and the Government of Jharkhand. He also announced the aims of the consultation to provide a regional platform for mutual sharing and learning of experiences and strategies so that good practices are replicated.

The consultation was attended by 176 people, including government officials, civil society organisations, academics, the media, Forest Rights Committee members and Van Adhikaar Mitras (Forest Rights Friends). Participants came not only from Jharkhand but also from Odisha, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

National and regional perspectives

Mr Manoj Pingua - Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs – presented a national perspective on the FRA, stressing the importance of empowering Gram Sabhas (village councils) to improve claim determination and recognition. He was happy to note the progress being made on FRA over the last few months as a result of the partnership between the Government of Jharkhand and civil society, led by PACS.

He noted that there is emerging apprehension that the implementation of the FRA could lead to resource depletion but emphasised that forest resources can only be conserved when ownership lies with the community. He also stated that the FRA is not just a welfare measure but a matter of rights, ensuring that historically marginalised communities are assigned the land that is rightfully theirs.

To give a regional perspective, Mr Trilochan Sahoo, Officer on Special Duty from the Odishan Government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) was invited to present his experience from Odisha – a state that has topped the list in terms of the number of Individual Forest Rights titles recognised. He emphasised the importance of civil society engagement in the claims process and the use of GPS technology to facilitate the process of mapping in the state.

Other civil society representatives from Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh also had the opportunity to share some state-specific experiences, challenges and issues regarding the implementation of FRA in their areas.

Mr Manoj Pingua – Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs – addresses the audience, stressing the importance of strengthening Gram Sabhas to improve claim generation. Mr Manoj Pingua – Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs – addresses the audience, stressing the importance of strengthening Gram Sabhas to improve claim generation.

State perspectives

Various officials from the Government of Jharkhand provided a state-level perspective.

In her address, Dr Louis Marandi - Honourable Minister for Welfare - emphasised the need for convergent and collaborative initiatives to improve the implementation of FRA in Jharkhand. She suggested converging with different government development schemes and highlighted the need for state and district officials to build the awareness of Gram Sabhas (village councils) and to sensitise government functionaries on FRA provisions and procedures. She concluded that the partnership between Government and civil society organisations is important to ensure that FRA implementation is reaching the most marginalised people in society.

Mr B C Nigam – Principal Chief Conservator of Forests - assured that the requisite institutional support will be provided by the Forest Department to expedite claim generation. He also stressed the need for building the capacity of Gram Sabhas and Forest Rights Committees.

Mr Arun Walter Sanga - Deputy Secretary for the Revenue Department – also spoke, sharing that the revenue department has already issued a directive to the districts, requiring them to enter all recognised land titles into a record of forest rights. The record will be published online in the public domain.

Sharing, learning and future planning

After the speeches, two technical sessions were organised to share experiences and future strategies for a collaborative approach and regional platform for learning and sharing.

Some of the issues highlighted were:

  • The lack of proper and adequate awareness and knowledge of the Act at multiple levels, especially frontline government staff and Gram Sabhas. There is therefore a need for building the awareness of Gram Sabhas and sensitising government functionaries on FRA provisions and procedures.
  • The need for converging with different government programmes and schemes to ensure that individuals and communities who are granted their forest rights can be provided with ongoing support to develop secure livelihoods.
  • The need for more specific guidelines on the habitat rights of Primitive Tribal Groups.

Overall, the consultation played a critical role in highlighting the importance of collaboration between civil society organisations, communities and the government in improving the implementation of the FRA. The sharing of positive stories from different states stimulated critical thinking amongst the stakeholders about how best to replicate good practices and it was agreed that an institutionalised, regional platform should be set-up to continue this learning and sharing.

Participants found the sharing of regional best practice to be very useful, including hearing from Mr Trilochan Sahoo - Officer on Special Duty from the Government of Odisha. Participants found that the sharing of regional best practice was very useful, including hearing from Mr Trilochan Sahoo - Officer on Special Duty from the Government of Odisha.

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