three issues that
come up in the majority of the States. Here's an explanation
the terms and the problems that are being referred to.
1. WHAT KIND OF GRAM SABHAS ARE BEING CALLED: The "gram sabha" (village assembly) is the first tier of decision-making in the Act. But which gram sabha? In reality gram sabhas can be called at three levels. A typical gram panchayat includes multiple revenue villages, which each in turn include multiple hamlets. Hence the gram sabha can be called either as the assembly of all voters in a gram panchayat, as the assembly of all the residents of a revenue village, or as the assembly of the residents of a hamlet. The movements had long demanded that the gram sabhas for this Act should be at the level of the actual settlements - the hamlets, or at most the revenue villages - and not at the artificial administrative level of the gram panchayat, where they would be very large and make democratic functioning impossible. The Act requires hamlet level gram sabhas in Scheduled Areas and revenue village gram sabhas elsewhere.
2. THE FOREST RIGHTS COMMITTEES: Each village is to elect a committee of 10 - 15 people from its own residents as a "Forest Rights Committee", which will do the initial verification of rights and place its recomnendations before the gram sabha (which makes the decision).3. COMMUNITY RIGHTS: Contrary to common conception, the Act is not solely or even primarily about individual land claims. Many of the rights, such as the right to minor forest produce, are to be exercised as a community. The most powerful sections of the Act concern the community right to manage, protect and conserve forests, the first step towards a genuinely democratic system of forest management (sections 3(1)(i) and 5). In most areas the State and Central governments have made concerted efforts to deny or ignore these community rights and to instead treat the Act as if it is purely about individual land rights. A key aspect of the struggle is to use and expand these community rights and powers.
Notwithstanding rapid implementation of the Act in the State, the atrocities have not come to an end. On the 7th, 8th and 12th of June respectively, the villages of Medhakhapari, Dawali and Kwadyakund in Khaknar Block of Burhanpur District were attacked by the Forest Department. Kwadyakund was razed and in the other two villages many houses were destroyed. The FD guards and officers also looted the belongings of the adivasis as well as detaining four people from Kwadyakund. Adivasi Ekta Sanghatan, a mass organisation in the area, has filed criminal complaints and is planning protests against this atrocity - hardly the first in Burhanpur, which has seen repeated brutal evictions and police firings during these years of struggle.
a result of these evictions, the Jabalpur High Court has issued three
orders in various cases barring any further evictions till the rights
recognition process is complete - as per section 4(5) of the Act.
In Madhya Pradesh in general implementation of the Act began in the first week of February, and by the end of February, most Forest Rights Committees had been formed. In Schedule V areas the Committees have been formed at the revenue village level, while in other areas - Burhanpur District in particular - the Committees were formed at the panchayat level. MP's PR Act provides for hamlet level GSs in scheduled areas, and recent (May 27) orders on the FR Act have required that such gram sabhas should take place where people demand them (provided that very recent settlements cannot have their own gram sabhas). Unsurveyed villages are facing difficulties in being included in gram sabhas or in forming Forest Rights Committees of their own, especially in Burhanpur, Khandwa and Khargone, but this has been partially remedied after the May 27 orders. The government has also often ignored the requirement for one third women's representation on the Forest Rights Committees.
As in other States, there have been problems getting ST certificates, which has partially been resolved by orders to the SDM's to issue the certificates in a time bound manner (people were earlier being directed to their sarpanches). In some unsurveyed and forest villages, people are being required to get signatures from local forest guards for being issued ST certificates, who are refusing and claiming that the residents are "encroachers." Recent orders (May 27th) now state that lack of an ST certificate should not be grounds for denying a claim at the stage of filing the claim; instead, when the claim reaches the Sub-Divisional Committee level, the SDO should be required to verify the antecedents and issue the certificate as per normal procedures. If the person is found ineligible, the claim will be rejected at that stage.
Claims for community rights are being treated as low priority and there is little awareness on community rights among the government officials. While both community rights forms and individual rights forms have been distributed, in some areas the community rights forms are being marked "N/A" by government officials. While the actual field work is being handled primarily by revenue officials, the Forest Department has been charged with training the concerned government staff, allowing them some degree of dominance. Collectors and other revenue officials have objected to this.
The State government had put in place a three month deadline for rights claims to be filed. When they were approached with objections that this would result in problems, they informed the organisations that this deadline will not be enforced and it will be left to the gram sabhas to decide when to stop receiving claims.
Directions have also been issued requiring that the status of lands disputed between the Revenue and Forest Departments - particularly the "orange areas", which total more than 1.2 million hectares - should also be sorted out immediately.
On May 27th, new orders issued by the Principal Secretary, Tribal Welfare to all District Collectors have clarified some of the earlier issues, as noted above. It is now clearly stated that rights have to be recognised in all areas, including protected areas. Applications of claimants without official documentary evidence in support of their claims are to be accepted with the SDO being asked to obtain the required documents from the concerned departments. It remains to be seen how this order will be implemented.
The organisations have begun the demarcation of community forest resources and village boundaries across the State. Also, from May 5th onwards, protests have taken place demanding that the problems in implementation be addressed. On May 19th, coordinated protests were held in Damo, Badwani, Satna and Burhanpur districts. On May 31st, a mass demonstration with more than 6,000 people took place in Bhopal.
Evictions have continued in Rajasthan. See here for one recent incident.
FRCs have been constituted in almost all of the villages in Scheduled Areas in south Rajasthan (including protected areas), mostly between April 8th and 17th and again in May, but in non-Scheduled Areas there are difficulties. For the remaining villages in the Scheduled Areas, gram sabhas are being called again to form the Committees. In some villages where FRCs were wrongly constituted, the Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan has succeeded in getting them re-constituted. In scheduled areas, gram sabhas of revenue villages are being called, whereas in non-scheduled areas, gram sabhas of the panchayats are being called. In Girva and Vallabhnagar blocks of Udaipur District and parts of Dungarpur District, no Forest Rights Committees have been formed till date (early August).
Post formation of the Committees there has been little action from the government side. There is a severe shortage of claim forms, with the government declaring that only claim forms carrying official stamps will be accepted - but not printing sufficient claim forms afterwards. Community rights forms are entirely unavailable. These problems have only recently been considered following new orders in July.
are continued efforts to relocate villagers from Sariska Tiger Reserve,
though such relocation is now illegal without the consent of the
affected persons. They do not want to leave their villages. Some
relocation is also planned from Ranthambore National Park but the
details are not yet available. In some villages, the potential conflict
with JFM committees has surfaced.
Recently, the Tribal Welfare Department issued a circular that confusingly referred to 9455 families identified in a 1995 government survey as "eligible" persons (i.e., under the circulars of that time, as people who had been identified as having cultivated land from prior to 1980). The circular stated that for these persons, claims should be submitted before June 30th, and rights finalised before July 20th. This led to considerable confusion and was in violation of the Forest Rights Act. After meetings with organisations, this circular was clarified by orders stating that the Act's provisions should be complied with for all applicants. It was also expected that more forms will be made available and the lower officials were directed to provide forms immediately to all those who demand them. However, the Forest Department continued to insist on the old circular.
On July 25th, around 5,000 people joined a Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan dharna against these illegalities. At the end of the day the Tribal Commissioner gave a written commitment that:
1. Forms for both community rights and individual rights will be freely and properly distributed. Only after the forms have been distributed will the three month period be deemed to have started.
The Forest Rights Committees should be allowed to function freely and
trained. Earlier the Forest Department was attempting to take
over the process in several areas.
3. The Forest Department had been treating pre-1980 claimants as eligible without verification and blocking other claims. The new instructions on this will now be reinforced.
There has also been some trouble and confusion as a result of propaganda against the Act by some NGO's, in particular Sewa Mandir, which has been circulating pamphlets telling adivasis not to "beg for land" by applying under the Act, that the Act wil "keep them in the jungle" etc. It is unclear why this is happening, but it is assumed that this may be related to the close links between these organisations and the Forest Department and their involvement in JFM programmes.
FRC's have been constituted in most villages in tribal areas, with relatively little difficulty and little signs of party manipulation so far. Gram sabhas have since then been held again in order to initiate the calling for claims. In most cases these committees have been constituted at the revenue village level, but in some cases where people have demanded hamlet level GSs in schedule V areas, those have also been permitted. FRCs were instructed in some areas to invite claims for community forest rights during the first month before accepting claims for individual rights. The FRC's have also been granted quasi-judicial status so that they can receive affidavits without requiring those affidavits to be on stamp paper, a major obstacle in many other areas. As of the beginning of August, roughly 50% of eligible claimants had filed their claims.
In some areas, particularly in the Dangs, the forest department is continuing to harass villagers and dig pits in their fields. In other areas they have cut down bamboo in order to prevent people from claiming rights over this minor forest produce, though the organisations have stopped them. However, in most areas, after two adivasis were killed in police firing in February, the Forest Department has been ordered to cease harassing people.
However, revenue officials who have conducted most of the gram sabhas have created confusion in many places. In some cases, claimants were not permitted to become FRC members due to misinterpretation of the rules. Till now there has been no systematic dissemination of information about the Act amongst the villagers and little proper training of the government staff, though such training has begun.
The Gujarat government has imposed some additional conditions for recognising rights over cultivated forest land. In particular, those owning some revenue land, or who have already received pattas to some forest land under the earlier 1992 GR, will be eligible to rights over a maximum of 10 acres including the land already in their name. The justification is that that is all the land required for meeting bonafide livelihood needs. There still appears to be some confusion on this matter. The government has also issued instructions that those holding jobs will not be eligible, though apparently an exemption is being made for those in "very small time" jobs.
The tribal department has issued a number of positive clarifications of the FRA for government staff, including that the forest department should not be involved with liason work in the field due to the fact that it is an interested party, and that communities may claim JFM forests as their community forest resource.
The government has granted time till December 31st for both individual and community claims to be filed.
The situation in Chhattisgarh continues to be difficult. In practice, FRCs have been formed hurriedly in late February/early March without any dissemination of information about the Act to the people. In almost all areas, FRC's were constituted at the panchayat level, though in a few Scheduled Areas hamlet level gram sabhas were allowed to function after they applied for recognition. In many areas existing JFM Committees - the Van Suraksha Samitis - have simply been converted to Forest Rights Committees in total violation of the law. The FRC's have not been given clear information on what their task is and in many areas are simply being bypassed by the Forest Department. Filling of claim forms has begun but only claims for private land rights are being sought. The forms for claiming community rights have not even been distributed. DLCs and SDLCs have been formed. Due to faction fighting within the Congress, most of the elected representatives in the higher level committees, including the state level monitoring committee, are from the BJP. The State Level Monitoring Committee is essentially non-functional.
Despite the Tribal Dept being the nodal agency, FRA implementation seems to effectively be controlled by the Forest Department. Prior to June, only those with residences on forest land were considered eligible, and forms were not even provided for those without a house on forest land (forms were only provided for those recorded under previous Forest Department surveys as living on forest land). After June, this has been changed, but the FD continues to run the process at the local levels. Forms continue to be given only to those who are on FD lists.
Much of this is not surprising, given that the orders issued by the State government (originally on February 8th) were themselves in violation of the Act and the Rules. Thus, the first gram sabha meetings called between Feb 25 & 29, were called by the Panchayat Secretary and not the Panchayat. Although claims for community forest rights are to be prepared by the Forest Rights Committees, the order asks the panchayat secretary to seek the assistance of forest and revenue officials, effectively making it a process controlled and managed by officials instead of the gram sabha, as provided for in the law. Gram sabha resolutions based on FRC recommendations were to be passed after giving an opportunity to officers/staff of concerned departments to be heard before forwarding them to the SDLCs. The Gram sabhas were also expected to pass resolutions on relocation packages from critical wildlife habitats of sanctuaries and national parks even before these had been identified. The Panchayat secretary is to be the secretary of every FRC despite the rules providing that a member be elected secretary. Claimants are asked to deposit their claims in the Panchayat office instead of to the FRC. Verification of claims was to start straight after their receipt by the panchayat secretary (instead of the FRC) after intimating revenue & forest officials. After verification of claims, survey teams for forest land are to be constituted by the DFO & for revenue land by the Collector. The SDO is to direct the FRC & Gram Sabha when to have their meetings.
Overall, thus, officials are trying to control the process from start to finish - in violation of both the spirit and letter of the Act. Chhattisgarh has already seen numerous protests against this, including a mass cycle rally in Raipur in which more than 2,000 people participated, as well as numerous dharnas, morchas and smaller protests in the districts. Dharnas were held in most districts between August 9th and 15th and a large morcha in Raipur on the 15th.
More detailed information on the FR Act in Orissa can be found at http://www.fra.org.in
The government claims to have formed more than 30,000 FRCs during the two days in March when gram sabhas were called. In reality FRC formation began around this time and continued up to June. FRC's have been constituted at the revenue village level. There were attempts in some areas to convert the JFM Committees into Forest Rights Committees, but these were mostly stopped. Subsequently, the revenue secretary sent a letter to all district collectors asking them to give due importance to implementing the Act. It also said that the maps prepared by FRCs need not be to scale. The SDLCs would have the responsibility to prepare proper maps based on the received claims.
After the initial bout of energy, no further gram sabha meetings have been called officially to initiate the process of inviting claims. Although the government has printed a large number of claim forms, these have not yet reached all the villages. In most areas filing of claims has begun and most claims have been filed as of mid-August. The Forest Department has been spreading misinformation about the Act and seeking to divide villages. Non-ST's were initially prevented from filing claims at all, though they are now being allowed to do so. Tribals are facing acute problems in obtaining ST certificates.
There have also been many cases of the FD forcibly undertaking plantations on cultivated lands under a Japanese funded forestry project in total violation of the law. Recently, some impoverished adivasis were severely beaten by FD supported goon for resisting such plantations.
In Sunabeda sanctuary and the Simlipal Tiger Reserve, the villagers are facing a lot of problems due to the forest department not permitting even awareness raising meetings.On July 23rd the Orissa High Court issued an interim order staying grant of pattas or felling of trees until further notice (very similar to the February order of the Madras High Court), but allowing the process of the Act to continue. On July 2nd, an application by the petitioners for a complete stay on the Act had been rejected by the Court. Ironically 45 minutes after issuing the interim order of staying grant of pattas, a different bench of the same High Court directed the State government to implement the Act and make a final decision on all claims within three months of receving the claim.
gram sabhas were called in April in Nandurbar and Jalgaon districts.
In some places FRCs were constituted, but in others the gram
sabhas were adjourned due to lack of quorum. The Tribal
department organised a number of District and Sub-Divisional Workshops
to spread awareness regarding the Act. The Department
that the process of holding gram sabhas would begin from May 1st. It
was also decided by the State Monitoring Committee that Gram Sabhas in
Scheduled and non-Scheduled Areas will be held at revenue village
level. What has happened however is that in several areas the
gram sabha has been held at the Gram Panchayat level and the FRC's then
constituted separately for each revenue village - implying that the
panchayat-level gram sabha will be the decision-making body.
government had also declared that gram sabhas at the hamlet level will
be held only
exceptional circumstances (eg. remote areas, geographical difficulties,
"Naxalite" affected areas etc.), and till date these have been held
only in some areas in Nandurbar and Jalgaon Districts and in a few
villages in Thane District. .
the process of calling Gram Sabhas has begun in most districts.
the fact that the decision has been taken by the SLMC that gram sabhas
are to be called at the revenue village level, in many places, FRCs are
being formed at the Group Gram Panchayat level. Initially the
state government had announced that the Gram Sevak will be the
secretary of the FRC, but under pressure this decision was changed and
the Tribal Welfare
Department has now announced that an educated person from the village
is to be appointed as Secretary. However, even so, in some
villages, the officials present at the Gram Sabha insist and appoint
the Gram Sevak as Secretary of the FRC.
In meetings held in April, the administration agreed to implement the Act by taking the revenue village as the unit rather than the very large panchayats. However, as of mid August no further implementation had occurred, despite the Collector's written assurance after a protest demonstration. On August 4th the Secretary for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs agreed to look into the matter.
Despite repeated demonstrations and protests from mass organisations and political parties, implementation has yet to begin in Jharkhand. In a few districts, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj at the Centre had directly despatched letters to the Collectors asking for gram sabhas to be called on February 28th; this was done haphazardly and little happened. The government is claiming that it is not able to implement the Act as Jharkhand has no elected panchayats (due to panchayat elections not being held for other reasons), and the Act requires elected members in the Sub Divisional and District Level Committees while the Rules require the panchayats to summon a gram sabha. Ministry of Tribal Affairs has been requested for a clarification on this and had, in July, informed the Jharkhand government that they may appoint members to fill these positions. It is now expected that implementation may begin after the end of the rains in October.
Hundreds of settlements have submitted resolutions seeking constitution of hamlet level gram sabhas. Protest demonstrations were held in several block and district headquarters between 5th and 9th May. On May 31st, a demonstration took place in Ranchi.
On February 19th, the State government constituted the State Level Monitoring Committee and directed the District Collectors to constitute the District and Sub-Divisional Level Committees. On February 22nd, a letter was issued directing the convening of gram sabhas. It appears that at the May 1st normal gram sabhas, the Act was raised at some villages in Erode and Dindigul Districts. The SLMC appears to have had no meetings yet.
On July 3rd, new information was received to the effect that from July 1st the State government has begun constituting District Level Committees in most districts. In Kanyakumari District, it was reported that Forest Rights Committees are being constituted directly by the Collector, but this has been contested by the local movements. As of the end of July the Committees were constituted, and in Kanyakumari District gram sabhas had also been held and Forest Rights Committees elected in some villages. By the first half of August, the process of creating FRC's had begun in most hill areas in the State. In some districts, however, only the District and Sub-Divisional Level Committees have been set up, and in some cases even their members do not know they are on them; while in other districts there are only FRC's but no DLC or SDLC. The Collector of Tirunelveli District recently told a reporter that he had never heard of the Forest Rights Act.
FRC's formed at the hamlet level on the initiative of people have not been officially recognised.
addition, on February 21st, the Madras High Court
issued a stay order against any issuing of pattas or felling of trees
(under section 3(2)). On April 30th,
after an application for vacation of this order was moved by a tribal
organisation, the High Court clarified that implementation of the Act
should proceed, but no title for any rights should be granted until
further orders of the Court. These court orders have also
convenient excuse for the government to not implement the Act, as in
the Nilgiris District, where the Collector has been citing the court
order to claim that no implementation is necessary (an untrue
interpretation of the order).
Violations of the Act also continue. In Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, on May 26th eviction notices were issued to all the Kani adivasis living in four villages inside the reserve, on the grounds that they had "failed to help the Forest Department." This is no ground for eviction under any law and is a violation of basic human rights. When the villagers replied pointing out that the notice is not only illegal but also a criminal offence under the Forest Rights Act, they received another letter on June 19th from the concerned forest officer - the Deputy Director of the Tiger Reserve - threatening them with unspecified further action if they do not disown their reply.
on the borders of the proposed Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, the Masinagudi
panchayat has twice called one day bandhs in protest at the illegal
notification of a critical tiger habitat inside the reserve. Eviction notices were also issued in the proposed Anamalai Tiger Reserve recently.
FRC's have been formed in the eight districts that fall within the Scheduled Areas, as well as in some other non-scheduled districts as well. In some districts, only some awareness raising activities have been undertaken by the government. Forms for filing claims have been distributed but haven't reached all the villages, though the AP government is allowing submission of other types of forms as well. In Adilabad, Vishakhapatnam, Srikakulam and Vijayanagaram the claims filing process is almost complete.
In several areas the ITDA is underatking surveys with GPS systems to assist in mapping. In AP, claims applications are not being filed directly to the Forest Rights Committees - they are being filed to the panchayat, entered into computer records and the list given to the FRC's for verification. One "social mobiliser" has been appointed in every village under the existing World Bank sponsored Indira Kranthi Patakam scheme (formerly known as the Velugu scheme), and these mobilisers have been instructed to help with claims. However, the government has been focusing entirely on individual claims, and hardly any community rights claims are being filed in areas outside those where Adivasi Aikya Vedike (a federation of organisations) or other groups are working.
It appears that the AP government intends to promote the use of the claimed individual lands for plantations and biodiesel. The government has begun promoting coffee plantations on people's lands in Vishakhapatnam District, rubber in East Godavari District and biodiesel in several districts.
The Mandal Revenue Officers have been issuing ST certificates, which do not as yet seem to be a difficulty.
August 15th has been announced as the date on which the recognition of rights will begin, but it is unclear how this will happen since the process will not be complete anywhere by then. It is expected that an announcement will simply be made of the number of people likely to get rights.
In protected areas as well the process of claiming rights is continuing. There have been many claims that Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary has seen massive encroachment and tree felling, yet this is untrue. What has occurred is that the Forest Department has attempted to grab large areas of revenue land, and the claiming of rights over, or the reoccupation of these lands, is being described as "encroachment."
Implementation of the Act appears to have begun near the end of March, with a circular that directed constitution of Forest Rights Committees at the gram sansad level. This circular had a number of problematic sections. However, the process stopped soon after the end of March due to the announcement of panchayat elections. It is expected to begin again after the elections are over. As of the last week of June, implementation appears to have restarted in some areas in Jalpaiguri, Midnapore and Bankura Districts. Initially the problems continued, including calling of the gram sabhas at the level of the "gram sansads" - ward sabhas - which, in forest areas, can be very large. However, the problem appears to have been remedied and hamlet level gram sabhas are now being called in some areas. Forms have been issued in most gram sabhas.
However, in Buxa Tiger Reserve efforts were made for several weeks to relocate people by the offer of the Rs. 10 lakh proposed compensation package. The process appears to now have been halted but there is still confusion inside the reserve.
A Working Group was set up to recommend the best methods to implement the Act. The working group had finished its work in May. Subsequently, it appears that the government had decided to proceed with holding gram sabhas as the ward sabha level (that is, a gram sabha for each constituency in the panchayat). These ward sabhas are quite large and include many non-forest dwellers and non-tribals. The decision to hold these ward sabhas was opposed by tribal movement organisations, the tribal wing of the CPM, the CPI etc. Nevertheless, on July 29th the process began in Attapaddy District in some selected gram sabhas - only thoes actually near existing forests, as opposed to all those with forest land - and in other areas in Ernakulam, Kannur and other areas. In all areas, the ward sabhas could not be held due to the lack of an adequate quorum. As a result a decision was taken in mid August to have the gram sabhas at the hamlet level wherever ward sabhas could not be held due to the lack of a quorum. The local organisations are demanding that hamlet level gram sabhas should be made mandatory and not left to the discretion of the District Collector. These gram sabhas were to be called on August 18th.The FRA process has however only been initiated in villages that are in fact near actual physical forests and where there is overwhelming evidence of total dependence on physical forests for liveilhood. The process seems to be ignoring villages that are on the fringes or who have forest land but no actual forest.
Demands have now been coming up from a number of areas/organisations that declaration of Adivasi majority areas as V Schedule Areas is essential to truly benefit from the fruits of Forest Rights Act, since powers under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act are fundamental and complementary to FRA. This is particularly so for prevention of alienation of land as well as other rights.
There has been a lack of information dissemination and publicity, with almost no official action in this direction. However, in several areas, hamlets have on their own begun to organise Forest Rights Committees and preparation for implementation o fthe Act.Karnataka
was an initial burst of activity in February, when Forest Rights
Committees were constituted in several districts of southern Karnataka.
In some areas Committees were constituted without even
sabha. Elected representatives and local organisations
demand the cancellation of these Committees. Since then, it
appears that District Level Committees and Sub-Divisional Level
Committees have been set up in some
districts. Nothing further appears to have occurred.
Forest Rights Committees were constituted in some villages on the 28th of February. After that, no implementation appears to have taken place since.