Forest Rights

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PACS has been supporting Scheduled Tribes (STs) and other forest-dwelling groups to claim land title rights (Individual Forest Rights) and common property rights (Community Forest Rights) under the 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA). Forest rights provide food, livelihood and cultural security for these communities, as well as protecting them from eviction.

Why are forest rights an issue for socially excluded groups?

Adivasis (tribal people) rely on forests for their livelihoods. They hunt, fish and collect forest produce like wood, fruit and nuts to sell or use themselves. Most adivasis have lived like this for generations. 

Adivasis tend to live in remote forested areas and often speak their own tribal languages. As a result many adivasi communities are isolated from the modern world, unaware about their rights and entitlements. Especially vulnerable are “Primitive Tribal Groups” who lead a nomadic, pastoralist life. They are hard to reach as they never have a fixed abode and rarely come into contact with other people.

Back in 1920 the Indian Forest Act was passed, making all forest land government-owned. This meant that adivasis became “forest offenders” and had to apply for permission to use the forest. Even today, there are still outstanding, court cases regarding “forest offences”.

In 2006, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed (otherwise known as the Forest Rights Act or FRA), overriding the Indian Forest Act. Under the FRA, those who primarily reside and depend on forest land for a livelihood are now able to claim the rights to this land. 

However, illiteracy is high within tribal communities (41% of adivasis aged 7 or above cannot read or write) and so, without help, it is impossible for them to fill out the necessary paperwork to claim their rights. Even for those communities and individuals who have applied for their forest rights, decisions can take a long time. Many claims are pending and, out of those claims that are approved, around 90% are for land areas that are less than what was claimed for. For example, an original claim may have been made for 4 hectares but what has been received is only 2 hectares.

Without forest rights, adivasis do not legally own their lands and are therefore under the constant threat of eviction. Indeed, the forest inhabited by tribal people tends to be rich in natural and mineral resources. This habitat is very attractive to outsiders like mining companies. In many cases, this has led to the displacement of adivasi communities.

What work has PACS done on forest rights?

PACS has been working on the theme of forest rights with 51 Civil Society Organisation (CSO) partners in five states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha) covering 41 districts.

PACS has been supporting communities to claim their forest rights and entitlements under the FRA by:

  • Strengthening the knowledge of Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) about the FRA so they are better able to support communities to apply for their community and individual forest rights.
  • Increasing the representation of socially excluded groups, especially women, on FRCs so their voices and experiences are heard.
  • Training Van Adhikar Mitras (Forest Rights Friends) to provide hand-holding support to communities when applying for their rights, and supporting them to follow up rejected or pending claims.
  • Supporting FRCs and the Van Adhikar Mitras with legal support to help with processing and following-up pending or rejected claims.
  • Using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to map land boundaries and use this data when applying for forest rights.
  • Helping Scheduled Tribe communities and other forest-dwelling groups to manage their natural resources and be prepared to respond to local climate variations and disasters.
  • Building networks and alliances with other organisations also working on forest rights so that, together, they have a stronger voice for advocacy

What impact has PACS forest rights work had?

  • 124,500 households have been supported to claim for their Individual Forest Rights, out of which 35,012 Individual Forest Rights titles have been received.
  • 3418 Community Forest Rights claims have been submitted. Of these, 1201 have been received.
  • 3258 training and sensitisation events have been held on the subject of forest rights, attended by a range of people including PACS partner staff, government officials, the media and CBO members.
  • 832 advocacy meetings have been held with government officials and other stakeholders on the subject of forest rights, leading to 134 recommendations on forest rights being proposed.
  • 1067 Van Adhikar Mitras have been trained in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha to support forest-dwelling communities with submitting their FRA applications and helping them to follow up on rejected or pending claims.

PACS also organised a National Convention of Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) in Delhi in March 2014. 1000 FRC members attended and were able to voice their experiences and concerns to representatives from three political parties.

In Bihar, a first-of-its-kind State core committee has been set-up for monitoring and implementation of the Forest Rights Act. The formation of this committee was influenced by PACS and consists of CSO members and government functionaries.

In Jharkhand, PACS has formed a civil society platform on forest rights - Van Adhikar Manch - that consists of around 20 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working on forest rights (including three PACS partners). They are working with the State government to help publicise information and provide support regarding the FRA.

This film shows how PACS partners in Chhattisgarh have been using GPS technology to produce accurate maps of forest land to accompany FRA claims.
This film shows more about how PACS has been collaborating with the Government of Jharkhand to improve the FRA claims process.
This film shows how PACS partners in Odisha have gone further, helping successful FRA claimants in linking up to other government schemes to develop their land.

Find more Forest Rights case studies on the PACS Learning Zone.

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