The Current Situation
The state of the forest rights struggle, based on reports from our member organisations and friendly groups.
For summary reports on the national situation, see:
- The Council for Social Development's Summary Report on the Implementation of the Forest Rights Act (September 2010). This contains a comprehensive and somewhat detailed overview, as well as action points required.
- Chargesheet on violations of the Forest Rights Act by the government (October 2009)
- the statement issued after the Nagpur meeting (June 20-21, 2009)
- "Issues of Struggle" (January 2009),
For State-wise situation reports, see below. This information is collected on a regular basis but is not always updated here. If you require up to date information, please see above.
- Madhya Pradesh
- Dadra and Nagar Haveli
- Tamil Nadu
- Andhra Pradesh
- West Bengal
- Himachal Pradesh
What Does All This Mean?
There are three issues that come up in the majority of the States. Here's an explanation of 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. In the final form of the law, in Scheduled Areas, hamlet level gram sabhas are required, while in other areas the law permits revenue village gram sabhas.
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.
Two primary problems have emerged in the forest rights struggle in MP. First, the Forest Department continues to interfere in the process of people attempting to claim rights under the Forest Rights Act. Across the State, the Department is insisting that claimants must either produce “fine receipts” (as was done in Satna district) or demanding that claimants must be on the Department's list of “eligible encroachers” made in 1994. Both these demands are brazenly illegal and amount to reducing the act to the earlier, Forest Department-controlled “guidelines” which did not address the issue at all. Moreover, the signatures of the chairpersons and secretaries of Forest Rights Committees have been taken by the Department on blank 'rejection' forms. The Department has also tried to convert Joint Forest Management Committees into Forest Rights Committees.
Secondly, community rights continue to be neglected, and claims for such rights are being actively discouraged. While both community rights forms and individual rights forms have been distributed, in some areas such as Betul district, the community rights forms were at first marked "N/A" by government officials. Despite this, several hundred villages had demarcated and asserted their powers and rights over community forest resources in 2008. In August 2009, villages in Burhanpur, Khandwa, Khargone and other areas began a process of demarcating their boundaries and issuing notices to the Forest Department for its illegal attempts to take over management of their community forests. While demarcating their community resource boundaries, villagers found that in many cases the forest department has encroached upto 1.5 kms inside revenue village boundaries. On 14th October, the SDM Satna and officials of 2-3 blocks agreed to come and see the forest department’s encroachment themselves and accepted that this was illegal. They promised to distribute 1200 claim forms for community rights by 25th October and to support their claims for CFR rights. However, this has not been done by the promised date. Despite the tehsildars promising that they will accept evidence admissible under the Rules, no claim for individual pattas has been accepted without a FD fine receipt. Further, in many cases the pattas have been issued for far lesser area than that claimed without assigning any reason for the same.
In the area in which the Bargi dam displaced have settled, the response is somewhat different in each of the three districts. In Jabalpur district, pattas have been given in forest villages without claims being invited by FRCs and those holding original leases given by the FD have been excluded. In Seoni district, 1500 pattas have been issued on the basis of ST certificates signed only by the Panchayat. In Mandla district, pattas are being issued only to those who have ST certificates signed by higher officials and claims of those from an area allocated for building a heavy water plant are not being considered.
Meanwhile, clashes between forest officials and people have continued, with several persons getting killed in such clashes in Burhanpur district alone in 2009. The forest department has burnt the hut of a villager in the last week of Ocober 2009.
Implementation of the Act in Madhya Pradesh began in February 2008. In Schedule V areas, Forest Rights Committees were formed at the revenue village level, while in other areas - Burhanpur District in particular - the Committees were formed at the panchayat level. Madhya Pradesh's Panchayati Raj Act provides for hamlet level gram sabhas in scheduled areas, and the Tribal Secretary’s May 27th, 2008 orders on the FR Act have required that such hamlet level 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. The government had also ignored the requirement for one third women's representation on the Forest Rights Committees.
As in other States, there were problems getting ST certificates, which were partially 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." The May 27th, 2008 orders state that lack of an ST certificate should not be grounds for rejecting 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 may be rejected at that stage.
Harassment in protected areas and Tiger Reserves and pressures to relocate are continuing.
Notwithstanding rapid implementation of the Act in the State, the atrocities have not come to an end. As a result of evictions in July 2008, the Jabalpur High Court 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. 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.
The Madhya Pradesh government had continuously announced January 31st, 2009, as the deadline for filing claims, but this is illegal and was protested against by the local organisations. Press reports indicated that June 30, 2009 was fixed as a new “deadline”, and it now appears that, in keeping with the President's address to Parliament, the new 'deadline' for completion of the process is December 31, 2009.
The local organizations have now decided to challenge the many illegalities taking place during implementation. As a first step, villagers are demarcating their customary village boundaries which are well known and demarcated in western MP. Where forest department encroachment is found on village land, notices are being sent to the department to remove their illegal boundary pillars within 15 days otherwise they will be demolished by the villagers. FRCs have also started writing to SDLCs asking what has happened to the claims they have submitted with copies to the District Collector and the State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC). Simultaneously, depots from which the FD is continuing to sell bamboo are being gheraoed to prevent such sales as now the villagers have ownership rights over bamboo.
No conflict is being faced with JFM committees in western MP as most of them have become dormant and the villages are predominantly tribal. There are problems with JFMCs in mixed villages where non-tribals have come from outside.
In Rajasthan, interference by the Forest Department is a serious challenge. Atrocities have occurred in Rajasthan, including the eviction described here.
FRCs were 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 2008. In some villages where FRCs were wrongly constituted, the Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan 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. There have been several cases of illegal eviction of forest dwellers without giving them a chance to claim their rights under the Act.
Post formation of the Committees initially there was little action from the government side. There was 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 were entirely unavailable. These problems were partially remedied following new orders in July 2008.
In June 2008, 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 would 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, 2008, 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.
2. 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.
Despite the Tribal Commissioner’s assurances that the Act would be properly implemented, there was little improvement on the ground. In addition to continuing illegal evictions by the forest department, the state government issued a new 11 page proforma for filing claims (this was the third new form issued after Jan 2008). The new proforma required that verification of each claim must also be done by the Panchayat Secretary, the Sarpanch as well as the Forester which is totally illegal. In fact, the forms assume that the claimant is ineligible. Even the claim proforma is not being issued to claimants unless they provide evidence for their claims beforehand and OTFDs are being asked to produce 80 year old forest offence reports as evidence. In January 2009, following mass demonstrations, the government withdrew the 11 page proforma, but then later said that it would continue but officials would be required to fill the form instead of people. This has had the result of making people vulnerable to the officials and to demands for bribes. As of September 2009, the claims were mostly at the level of the Forest Rights Committees and the Sub-Divisional Level Committees. In the wake of mass demonstrations and rasta rokos on August 3rd, 2009, claims in some districts – such as Sirohi – have moved faster and there is less Forest Department interference. Some individual land pattas have been issued although many are for much smaller area than claimed. Haila village in Banswara district was able to harvest a good crop for the first time after several years as the FD used to destroy it every year in the past. Officials, however, are abusing GPS instruments to delay and distort the process of demarcating the land on the ground and preparing maps. A lot of irregularities are taking place at the SDLC level. The Panchayat secretary is proving to be the most obstructive and often sits on claims unless pressurized. In Baran district, out of 1250 claims filed by the Sahariyas, only 450 have been accepted. The district collector is refusing to consider new claims saying that the time limit of 3 months for filing them is over. The forest department is refusing to consider any CFR claims.
In the context of the focus on Maoism, elements in the media have begun spreading claims that south Rajasthan is likely to turn red in the near future and that the ground for this is being prepared by the movements like the Jungle Jameen Jan Andolan, simply due to their supporting people’s struggle for their legitimate rights.
The claims process is not being taken up in the wildlife sanctuaries. For example, although shibirs have been organized in other areas, no shibir creating awareness about the Act was held in Kumbhalgarh sanctuary. In Kota district, a protected area was notified some five years ago, and the five villages within this area are being subjected to harassment and eviction notices. There are continued efforts to relocate villagers from Sariska Tiger Reserve, though such relocation is now illegal without the consent of the affected persons and full recognition of rights. In Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, similarly illegal relocation has begun. At least one settlement, the village of Indala, was relocated in May 2009. Though the families had 60 – 70 bighas of land, no land has been provided and only cash compensation has been paid. As of June 2009, attempts were reportedly on to relocate seven more families, and rumours suggest that another 96 villages will be relocated. As the Act has not been implemented in the Reserve, this relocation is in clear violation of the law. While earlier relocations had taken place through pressure and threats, a rise in awareness among the communities since last year has forced the forest authorities to engage in negotiations in several of these settlements. However, the requirements of scientific proof of human impact and implementation of the Forest Rights Act are not being complied with, which section 38V(5) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act requires (even in cases of “voluntary relocation”).
Mobilisation on community rights has taken place in large parts of the State, though the government continues to ignore them in implementation. The Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan estimates that approximately 90% of the claims filed so far have been filed as a result of its intervention.
By May 2008 FRC's had been constituted in most villages in Scheduled Areas. 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. In some cases, claimants were not permitted to become FRC members due to misinterpretation of the rules.
Despite this initial rapid start to implementation of the Act, by early 2009, the forest rights struggle in Gujarat was again bogged down in the fight to have the law respected by the authorities. Forest Department interference has become common, though the tribal department had initially 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. Gujarat government orders do however require that the Forest and Revenue Departments be present when the Forest Rights Committees undertake spot verification; in some areas the Forest Department has been refusing to cooperate, in a deliberate effort to block filing of claims. In fact this is an illegal requirement - the Rules only state that notice should be given to the Forest Department. Meanwhile the Sub-Divisional Level Committees are creating problems in some areas; in some cases they are insisting on production of fine receipts as proof of a claim, and in others sending rejected claim forms back to individual claimants rather than the Forest Rights Committees or the gram sabhas. As of October 2009, reports indicated that the Sub Divisional Level Committees had begun rejecting claims even when they are accompanied by fine receipts – only those on the FD's “eligible encroacher” lists are being accepted.
The Forest Department has also undertaken a massive program of creating new Joint Forest Management committees under the JBIC/JICA forestry project. This is being used to divide the community and buy off the more powerful elements in the local villages on to their side with the promise of generous funds. In some villages they have even made the Forest Rights Committee president the head of the Joint Forest Management Committee, in an effort to coopt him/her.
In non Scheduled Areas the process has largely not begun. Though it was scheduled to begin in November 2008, it has been further postponed due to lack of funds.
In some areas, particularly in the Dangs, the forest department is continuing to harass villagers and dig pits in their fields. Evictions and atrocities have continued in the Dangs, to the extent that in November 2008 the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests has directed an inquiry into four cases. On April 22nd, 2009, more than 150 forest guards attacked a family and beat up its members. More details are here. In other areas, the FD has cut down bamboo in order to prevent people from claiming rights over this minor forest produce, though the organisations have stopped them. At the state level, the Forest Department has continued efforts to imply that forest rights activists are Naxalites and to frame them in false cases. Recent media reports have alleged that the demand for ‘Bhilistan’ may be revived and the IB keeps ringing up the activists to keep an eye on their activities.
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 government had granted time till December 31st, 2008, for both individual and community claims to be filed, but this was extended to June 30th, 2009 and is likely to be extended further. Community rights mobilisations have taken place, and around 70% of villages where the Adivasi Mahasabha has presence have filed community claims so far, including over shared community forest resources. However, the government and the Forest Department have been engaging in a campaign intended to confuse people into equating community rights with the development rights under section 3(2) of the Act (to roads, schools, anganwadis, etc.)to prevent people from filing community claims to forests, minor forest produce etc.
In January 2009, the Gujarat government made an announcement that no titles to individual lands would be given and instead the land would remain forest land, while the rights holders would be given a "certificate" of their rights.
As of end of October, 2009, 1,40,000 numbered claim forms had been distributed. 663 claims for community forest rights and over 80,000 claims for individual titles had been filed. The SDLCs started accepting claims for individual rights after a lot of agitation by the Adivasi Mahasabha. Till now only 1388 individual claims have been accepted and 800 pattas issued only to those who could produce forest department fine receipts. There is tension in areas where a couple of organizations encouraged people to occupy forest land after the Act had come into force due to their claims being rejected.
The government has finally started accepting claims for community rights. Only two tehsils have provided details of how many of the claims have been accepted or rejected. Those rejected want to know the reasons for rejection. The Adivasi Mahasabha is planning to compile such official data to make it available to elected representatives. They have also mobilized the elected members of SDLCs and DLCs to become more active members of these committees. They have also approached the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs who is from Gujarat.
Though the State government claims to have recognised more than one lakh individual land holdings under the Forest Rights Act, the process has been implemented in an illegal and highly undemocratic manner.
FRCs were formed hurriedly in late February/early March 2008 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 - were converted to Forest Rights Committees in total violation of the law. The FRC's were never given clear information on what their task is and in many areas have been simply bypassed by the Forest Department. The State Level Monitoring Committee is essentially non-functional.
Despite the Tribal Department being the nodal agency, FRA implementation seems to have been largely controlled by the Forest Department in the initial months. Prior to June 08, only those living on forest land were considered eligible, and forms were only provided for those recorded under previous Forest Department surveys as living on forest land (only numbered official forms were being accepted for claims). After June 2008, this was changed, but the FD continued to dominate the process at the local levels.
Only claims for individual rights were accepted; in most areas forms for claiming community rights were not even distributed. The government had earlier announced that community rights would be recognised through a process during and after the monsoon, but this never took place. Organisations attempted to map community forest resources in six districts in order to preempt any move by the government to reduce or distort community resource rights. Reports suggested that FRCs had been made to sign on statements that they were not interested in claiming community forest rights without being aware of the law’s provisions.
Much of this is not surprising, given that the orders issued by the State government (originally on February 8, 2008) were themselves in violation of the Act and the Rules. Thus, the first gram sabha meetings (called between February 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 villager is to 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 have tryied to control the process from start to finish - in violation of both the spirit and letter of the Act. Chhattisgarh has 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, 2008 and a large morcha in Raipur on August 15th, as well as subsequent protests in December, January, May and August 2009.
In October and November 2008 plans were announced to first grant titles to those who were on lists drawn up based on a prior survey to identify those in occupation of land prior to 1980. As this would create confusion and result in the Forest Department further controlling the process, this move was opposed by the local organsiations through protests in all districts in the State, resulting finally in the order being withdrawn and the Act process being allowed to continue.
In tiger reserves in the State, illegal efforts at relocating people prior to the recognition of their rights are underway. Protests had taken place on this in the third week of December 2008. Implementation of the Act in all three tiger reserves had not even begun.
There have been some positive developments in 2009 . Three state level meetings organized by activists created an improved environment. The focus has shifted to claiming rights over community forest resources. This has generated a positive and unifying community spirit and the villagers have got excited about defining their customary community forest boundaries. 108 CFR claims have already been filed in the state. Jhudpi, Bade jhar ke jungle and nistari jungles falling within revenue village boundaries are marked by boundary pillars on the ground and in revenue maps from Rajwada times. 50 to 55 stones normally mark the boundary of each village. The villagers have got very involved in re-identifying their village boundaries and the information about the importance of doing so is spreading from village to village. About 35 CFR claims have been filed from Mungla and Chownki blocks of Rajnandgaon district.
Details about the 1.90,000 approved individual claims (area applied for, area approved, total area, etc) were sought from the tribal welfare department. Their reply was that they didn’t have the information and had asked the forest department for the information, requesting a copy to be sent to the tribal dept as well! A Forest official had stated that the department was approving claims of only those who could provide offense reports, i.e. reports from forest officials saying they had "encroached" the land prior to 2005.
More detailed information on the FR Act in Orissa can be found at http://www.fra.org.in
The government claimed to have formed more than 30,000 FRCs during two days in March, 2008, when gram sabhas were called. In reality FRC formation began around this time and continued up to June, at which time official figures said around 42,000 FRC's had been created. 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.
Organisations have made claim forms available in some areas where the officially printed ones had not reached. In most areas filing of claims was claimed to be largely complete as of mid-August, 2008. On closer perusal, however, it was found that many irregularities had taken place in the process of submitting claims to SDLCs and that the vast majority of claims were only for individual land pattas, with barely any claims for community rights. 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 and continue to face difficulties. Tribals are facing acute problems in obtaining ST certificates.
There have also been many cases of the FD forcibly undertaking plantations on cultivated lands both under government programmes and a Japanese funded forestry project in total violation of the law. In several incidents in 2008, adivasis were severely beaten by FD supported goons for resisting such plantations. More recently, the FD has been enticing people to opt for JFM with the lure of Rs 15 to 20 lakh per village, instead of claiming statutory rights over their CFRs, as with the latter they won’t get any funds.
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. This has intensified after attacks by Maoists inside both the protected areas.
On July 23rd, 2008, the Orissa High Court issued an interim order barring 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 receiving the claim. This order was ignored. The High Court interim order against grant of final titles initially led to demoralization and a lull in activities as an impression was created that the implementation of the Act had been stayed. However, the court later clarified that the order only barred issuing of titles and not other processes of filing claims and their verification. Finally, in August 2009, the High Court vacated its earlier interim order and allowed the implementation of the Act to proceed normally. Please see "Court Cases" for more information.
There have been numerous local and district level demonstrations throughout the State against violations of the Act and demanding its proper implementation, including a large rally of more than 5000 people in Bhubaneshwar on August 3rd, 2009.
CSD Orissa also launched a campaign for filing claims for community forest rights which has borne fruit. A large number of claims for community forest rights have been filed from all areas where organisations are active. At least in some of the districts, the SDLCs and even some DLCs have been very open and supportive, depending on the attitudes of the concerned IAS & ITDA officers. Unfortunately, however, verification of claims for CFRs is yet to take place and no CFR rights have yet been recognised. Government reports claim to have approved a number of community claims but these seem to be claims for land for development facilities under section 3.2. As in other states, officials continue equating claims for development facilities with claims for community forest rights.
In some cases, the SDLCs are sending verification teams consisting of forest, tribal and revenue officials, who are visiting the villages for on site verification of claims. This is apparently being done as FD staff did not show up when intimated by FRCs that they were planning field verification of the claims. During their initial visits, the verification teams have only dealt with claims for individual land rights while leaving out claims for community forest rights. This is being partially rectified now after persistent demands by local organisations.
Claims are also being verified in wildlife sanctuaries, although there continues to be forest department resistance to cooperate with the process in the tiger reserves. Titles for individual land have been granted at least in two wildlife sanctuaries (Badrama and Karlapat) but community rights are yet to be recognised in them. In 2009, interference had increased in protected areas and in areas slated to be granted for mining, where the government was not allowing the process to proceed. This is now beginning to change after MoEF issued it’s order of July 30, 2009. This requires evidence that the process of recognition of rights has been completed and the consent of gram sabhas obtained for diversion of forest land for other uses, as pre-conditions for granting forest clearance.
Recognition of the rights of residents of unsurveyed villages which do not come within any Panchayat, conversion of forest villages into revenue villages and recognition of the habitat rights of Orissa’s PTGs is lagging behind. OTFDs are also facing immense problems in proving 75 years of residence as there are hardly any records available for the purpose. A state level workshop focused on community rights in early September 09 has generated a positive response from the Tribal welfare department which has initiated a process for getting the rights of PTGs recognised with the help of micro-project staff and NGOs. The department has also promised to give greater attention to the recognition of other community rights including CFRs and NTFPs.
By late October 2009, over 43000 individual claims had been approved and 28,400 individual titles issued. A number of community rights are also stated to have been approved but it remains unclear whether these are actually land for development facilities or community forest rights.
A major problem being faced in Orissa is that all the finally approved claims or pattas are for revenue forest land and none for reserve forest land with the forest department. No maps are available for much of the reserve forest land as it has never been surveyed. Absence of maps is being given as the official reason for non-recognition of claims on such forest land. Due to increased govt pressure on officials to hasten the speed of issuing titles to contain growing tribal unrest in the state, in some areas officials have apparently issued titles over village forest land without following the claim making process.
There are also disturbing news about the impact of arrival of para-military forces in Malkanagiri district for anti-naxal operations is beginning to have on local tribals. 50 Sarpanches petitioned to the Collector to stop combing operations in their area as there weren’t any naxals there. Instead of accepting their demand, 14 of the sarpanches were arrested. The para military forces are reported to have shot dead two Koya tribal youth who ran out of fear on seeing them. This has created such a scare in the area that the Koya tribals of 10 to 12 villages have abandoned their homes and lands and moved down to lower areas. Instead of having their rights recognised such people face losing the little they already had due to the government's ‘Operation Green Hunt’ being started..
In Maharashtra, implementation slowed greatly in 2009, while attempts to empower the Forest Department increased. The first gram sabhas were called in April 2008 in Nandurbar and Jalgaon districts, followed by other districts in May and June. Prior to these gram sabhas, the Tribal Welfare department organised a number of District and Sub-Divisional Workshops to spread awareness regarding the Act. 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. In several areas, however, the gram sabhas have 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. The government had also declared that gram sabhas at the hamlet level will be held only under 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.
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 then 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 have insisted and appointed the Gram Sevak as Secretary of the FRC.
Both individual and community rights forms are being distributed, but the emphasis is on individual rights forms. The organisations have been demanding that separate gram sabhas for community rights should be held, but no decision on this has as yet been taken by the government. On August 15, CFR rights of two villages were recognised in Gadhcharoli district, making them the first two cases of recognised CFR rights in the country. 40 villages in the surrounding area are also ready to file their CFR claims.
Verification by Forest Rights Committees began in several areas at different times - mid November 2008 in Gadchiroli, the first week of December 2008 in parts of Thane, etc. In some areas, such as Jawahar Taluka in Thane District, false records of verificatoin have been made even though verification has not taken place. Even in areas where verification is taking place, it is frequently happening under pressure to meet deadlines and targets and hence with frequent violations of the regulations. Verification is being made subject to the decisions of the Forest Department in some areas. Organisations have been fighting these violations. They have also been demanding that those who hold dali and ek sali lands as well as those who were eligible under earlier circulars should receive priority.
Meanwhile, in January 2009, the State government began appointing "authorised employees" to conduct GPS surveys of claimed lands. In practice most of these "authorised employees" are Forest Department personnel. Organisations have protested this move and demanded that the government train Forest Rights Committees in using the technology. This demand has now been accepted and some FRC members have already been trained to use the GPS instruments.
Non-ST's in the Vidarbha area have been facing problems demonstrating three generations of residence. The organisations there are pushing for oral evidence to be accepted, but this demand has not yet been accepted.
In the three Tiger Reserves in Maharashtra there have been reported attempts at relocation of villages in violation of the FRA. Official sources indicate the decision to relocate 22, 1 and 5 villages in Melghat, Pench and Tadoba respectively. The village of Botezari was relocated out of Tadoba reserve in 2007, though such relocation was illegal under the Amendment to the Wild Life (Protection) Act (which had come into force the previous year). Part of the village of Kolsa was also relocated at the same time. No rights were recognised, there was no scientific investigation and no consultation took place. Facilities at the relocation site are still not complete as of June 2009, though as per law relocation is not allowed until facilities are complete. Harassment continued inside the reserve, leading to repeated protests in November 2008 and May 2009.
On August 3rd, 2009, rasta rokos and protests took place in several parts of Raigad, Thane and Nandurbar districts. Shortly afterwards the entire process was suspended as a result of the notification of elections. As of October 2009, the process remains stuck at this stage.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli
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 September 2009 no further implementation had occurred, despite the Collector's written assurance after a protest demonstration. On August 4th, 2008, the Secretary for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had agreed to look into the matter, with no impact.
Implementation of the Act only began in Jharkhand in October 2008, due to the lack of elected panchayats in the State. The State government claimed that it was not able to implement the Act due to this, since the Act requires elected members in the Sub Divisional and District Level Committees, while the Rules require the panchayats to summon a gram sabha. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs was requested for a clarification on this and had, in July 2008, informed the Jharkhand government that the State government can, in consultation with the gram sabhas, appoint members to fill these positions.
In Latehar, West Singhbhum and East Singhbhum districts, gram sabhas were called at the end of November 2008 and Forest Rights Committees elected, though in some areas the Forest Department has tried to impose JFM Committee members as FRC members. As of October 2009, systematic distribution of claim forms had not yet taken place in most areas. Although District Collectors have received some funds for printing forms etc, even where printed the BDOs have not bothered to distribute them. There are reports of revenue field level officials demanding bribes for giving forms. The Forest Department has attempted to restrict recognition to pre-1980's claimants in some areas.
Though hundreds of settlements submitted resolutions seeking constitution of hamlet level gram sabhas, initially most gram sabhas have taken place at the revenue village level. In Latehar, the Collector has agreed to hold gram sabhas as per the provisions of the Panchayati Raj Act of Jharkhand. The process of recognizing hamlet level gram sabhas has begun in the district.
In early 2009, there were also intensifying efforts to remove people from their lands for plantation purposes. In Latehar district, in the second week of February, false cases were filed against people who resisted plantations and two people were arrested. Even in August 2009, cases were filed against people occupying forest land since ages and they were jailed. Many villagers have been evicted since 2005 in the name of undertaking plantations.
As of October 2009, the State government had not issued any clear orders, and actual implementation was dependent on the District Collectors. In the absence of clear procedural guidelines being issued across the state, and the limited personnel available with the welfare department, implementation is largely being led by the district collectors. There seems to be wide variation in the approach being followed by different collectors. In some districts, the Collectors have delegated the task of getting FRCs elected to poorly trained BDOs. In some areas the BDOs have nominated FRC members on their own without calling gram sabha meetings while in other cases, the Collector is insisting on seeing the signatures of 2/3rd members of the Gram Sabha on the voters’ list before accepting the validity of the gram sabha meeting. Largely due to state government pressure to show some results, about 2000 individual titles have been issued in the whole state to date. In many cases the titles are for lesser area than that claimed but no reasons have been given for the same. The claims of other traditional forest dwellers are being ignored. There have reportedly been almost no claims for community forest rights, In one area, the Birhors claimed the right to collect NTFPs which has been granted over a 150 acre forest area.
The Forest Department is refusing to accept claims in most wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves on the grounds that rights in reserve forests were recognised during the colonial period. However, some individual land titles have been issued in Hazaribagh wildlife sanctuary. No effort has been made to convert forest villages (there are 28 forest villages in the state) into revenue villages although individual titles have been issued in one. Bamboo and Tendu leaf continue being managed as nationalized MFPs by the forest department.
On 19 February 2008, the State government constituted the State Level Monitoring Committee and directed the District Collectors to constitute the District and Sub-Divisional Level Committees. On 22 February 2008, 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. On 21 February 2008, the Madras High Court issued a stay order against any issuing of pattas or felling of trees (under section 3(2)). On 30 April 2008, 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 the title for any rights should be granted only after obtaining orders of the Court. These court orders have been used as a convenient excuse for the government to non-implementation of the Act. This was cited by the Nilgiris District Collector to claim that no implementation is necessary (an untrue interpretation of the order). However, since then the process of implementation has commenced belatedly.
On 3 July 2008, new information was received to the effect that from July 1st the State government has begun constituting District Level Committees in most districts. By the first half of August, 2008, 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 was set up, and in some cases even their members do not know they are on them. In Kanyakumari District, the Forest Rights Committees was being constituted directly by the Collector, but this was contested by the local movements. Conceding this, FRC was constituted by the Gram Sabha as the Forest Rights Committees have been constituted. 963 claims have been filed in Pechhiparai Panchayat and is to be considered by the Gram Sabha in November. The District Collector has initiated the process of getting the land surveyed in collaboration with the FRC even before the claims has reached the SDLC. In Thiruvanamali district, 5165 land claims have been filed. But the district authorities asked the Panchayat presidents to make sure that no claims are entertained from those claimants who have other lands in their name, have other source of income or a government job in violation of FRA.
In Dindigul district, meanwhile, despite the formation of FRC's at the panchayat level as early as May, in mid November 2008 the Collector started demanding that all forms should be submitted directly to him or to the concerned RDO (equivalent of an SDO), and that only forms in English would be accepted. This was protested in the area. On 20 October 2009, Adivasis from Kodaikanal hills protested at the Dindigul against evictions and eviction threats, false cases, prevention of collection of forest produce such as honey and firewood and demanded implementation of FRA.
FRC's formed at the hamlet level on the initiative of people have not been officially recognised. Such FRC's have been particularly prominent in the Nilgiris. The process of submission of claims and their determination has been completed in a number of villages in the first quarter of 2009 itself. the SDLC and DLC have remained unresponsive. However, the District Collector have initiated a parallel process calling forth NGOs, handing over the reswponsibility of formation of FRCs, yet another ones in some villages, except that it is exclusively a process with STs keeping away non-tribal ostensibly with the intention of creating a conflict between STs and non-STs. Similarly on the borders of the proposed Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, the Masinagudi panchayat has thrice called one day bandhs in protest at the illegal notification of a critical tiger habitat inside the reserve. At the end of November 2008, the Forest Department attempted to file false cases against 50 activists in the area in order to suppress the protests, but the police were forced to release those arrested and withdraw after a snap bandh called locally and mass demonstrations. On December 30, an all party committee called a mass demonstration against the illegal critical tiger habitat declaration at Gudalur; approximately 70,000 people participated. The press statement of the demonstration can be found here. The situation in the area remains tense as of October 2009, with repeated protests and attempts by the Forest Department to use other excuses – such as the Preservation of Private Forests Act and a proposed “Elephant Corridor” - to take over people's lands. In February 2009, however, the Madras High Court directed that no adivasis or other forest dwellers should be removed until the implementation of the Act was complete.
Violations of the Act also continue. In Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, on 6 May 2008, 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 19th June 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. Even though the villages in the Tiger Reserve are forest villages who have formed FRCs and are ready with their claims, the Tirunelveli district officials are delaying the process on the plea that a Town Panchayat to which these villages are a part of, does not have a ‘Gram Sabha’.
Eviction notices were also issued in the proposed Anamalai Tiger Reserve in August 2008, and were then withdrawn following protests and action by the Collector. The district officials have been insisting that the people cannot claim their rights in wild life sanctuary and tiger reserves under FRA. The process is yet to take off.
Forest Rights Committees had been constituted mainly at the panchayat level in February and March of 2008. Despite Andhra’s large tribal population and the large area under schedule V of the constitution, leave aside hamlet level gram sabhas, even revenue village gram sabhas have not been permitted. Consequently, residents of remote tribal hamlets of large panchayats have been unable to file their claims under the FRA. In several areas the ITDA undertook surveys with GPS systems to assist in mapping. One "social mobiliser" was appointed in every village under the existing World Bank sponsored Indira Kranthi Patakam scheme (formerly known as the Velugu scheme), and these mobilisers were instructed to help with claims. However, the government has focused entirely on individual claims. ITDAs are sending surveyors for surveying the lands for which only individual claims have been made. The verification forms for these have illegal additional pages that require sanction from beat officers and revenue officials. Many claims were illegally rejected by forest guards during the initial phase of verification by the FRCs. In Adilabad, many claims were initially rejected but the people have re-filed them. In addition, GPS surveys have been abused and people have found smaller areas of land being recorded than those that they claimed, leading to demands for resurveys in many areas. Forest Department interference has also increased, leading to recognition of much smaller areas than were claimed or are actually existing on the ground.
Initially no claim forms were being issued for community rights, and when they were subsequently issued, people were informed to simply tick those that they wished to claim - which clearly led to their rejection. Following mobilisation by movements and grassroots groups, and providing villagers training in mapping their community forest resources, claims for community forest resource rights have now been filed by several hundred villages. This has incidentally also led to rediscovery of many community lands that had been illegally seized by the Forest Department, and in some areas (as in the case of Orient Cement in a village in Adilabad) contributed to helping people resist handover of their common lands to private companies. Community claims were being sent directly to the SDLCs. Although District Collectors and ITDA officers had agreed to accept claims for community rights, no facilitation for these was or is being provided by the government. Out of an estimated 5000 tribal villages in the state, organisations have been able to mobilise 700 to 800 villages. In protected areas as well the process of claiming rights has taken place to a limited extent.
It appears that the AP government intends to compel those issued individual titles to undertake plantations on their lands instead of self cultivation for which the rights have been granted. The government has begun promoting coffee plantations on people's lands in Vishakhapatnam District, rubber in East Godavari District and biodiesel in several districts.
In the Gudem area of Vishakhapatnam district, the forest department was not permitting the filing of any claims on the grounds that no survey of forest land had been done under the AP Forest Act, 1967 and for which no final notifications have been issued to date. However, the villagers have rejected this premise saying that there is no link between notification of the land and people’s right to file claims under the FRA. Similarly, claims were not being entertained for the land to be submerged by the Polavaram dam or allocated for other development purposes.
Due to the lack of organisation among the Chenchus in Srisailam Tiger Reserve, efforts are continuing to illegally relocate them. The wildlife wing now appears to have decided to permit the Chenchus living in the core of the tiger reserve to stay on as it feels it can use them for tiger conservation.
In August 2008, the AP High Court followed the lead of the Madras High Court and issued an interim order barring grant of final titles for rights. In May 2009, the High Court in turn vacated this order and granted permission to issue titles (see here for more information). The earlier interim order of the High Court had led to a general apathy among government officials (who widely interpreted the order as a stay order, when it was not one).
As per official data of August 2009, 1,79,643 individual titles have been issued for a total area of 4.86,780 acres. This is against a total of 3,27,715 individual claims being filed with gram sabhas for a total area of 9,47,788 acres. Thus the approved claims and approved area is roughly 50 % of what was claimed. No reason has been provided for the rejection of such a large number of claims or reducing the area claimed, thereby depriving the people the right to appeal. People are now seeking such information under RTI to challenge arbitrary rejections and reductions in area claimed. The average area of approved title is just over one hectare, a far cry from the permitted maximum of 4 ha and the fear expressed by conservationists that the FRA will result in the ‘distribution of 4 ha to every tribal family resulting in the decimation of the country’s forests’.
On the surface, Andhra has also issued an impressive 2276 ‘community certificates of titles’ (presumably meaning titles for community rights) for a total area of 7,84,949 acres. Information obtained under RTI about the details of these community claims, however, has revealed an attempted ‘coup’ of community forest rights by the forest department. The majority of community forest rights which have been approved are claims filed by JFM committees (VSSs in AP) which have no right to file claims under the Act. If the forest department created committees continue, the gram sabhas empowered to protect, conserve and manage their CFRs for sustainable use will be illegally deprived of their statutory right under the Act while the FD will retain control over JFMCs as before. In contrast, many of the community claims filed by villagers have either been rejected or approved for a much smaller area than that claimed. The Adivasi Aikya Vedike organized a protest against this abuse of the FRA in Adilabad and the villagers are planning to file fresh claims for CFR rights. Herding and grazier communities have been struggling to file claims for seasonal grazing rights which continue being ignored.
Implementation of the Act appears to have begun near the end of March 2008, 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. When implementation restarted in June 2008, 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. In Jalpaiguri district, in November 2008, the government was insisting on Forest and Revenue officials being members of the Forest Rights Committees - in direct violation of the law - and accusing protesters in the area of encouraging "encroachment."
In the southern districts the process appears to be have taken place with almost no public awareness and with complete official control of the gram sabhas being called. A deadline of November 30th, 2008, had been fixed by the State government but protests took place at the end of November to get this extended, as in most areas gram sabhas never took place properly and hence could not have invited claims as per the Rules. Some pattas were issued prior to the Lok Sabha elections, but it appears these "pattas" have been identified by the Forest Department as no proper gram sabhas have taken place in almost all areas and no FRC verification has been undertaken either. In the large number of forest villages and other settlements in North Bengal, no effort has been made to convert them into revenue villages. Instead, the forest staff have attempted to grant pattas to people selected by them while denying the others even an opportunity to file their claims. This makes the process in direct violation of the Act.
Efforts to resist these illegalities have been met with accusations that the concerned organisations are "misleading" people and are Maoist affiliates. Community rights have been totally ignored, and in areas where people have themselves attempted to exercise their community forest management powers and rights, as in Jalpaiguri District, these have been sought to be repressed by the government. In October 2008, further, the West Bengal government issued a new JFM circular which attempted to reduce these community forest management powers to Joint Forest Management, while imposing the same earlier conditions on the types and quantities of minor forest produce that can be collected, bans on grazing, etc., all of which are now illegal as per the Act.
In Buxa Tiger Reserve efforts were made for several weeks in June and July 2008 to relocate people by the offer of the Rs. 10 lakh proposed compensation package. The process was subsequently halted after protests and intervention by political leaders.
In August 2009 a writ petition was filed against these illegalities in the Kolkata High Court.
A Working Group was set up to recommend the best methods to implement the Act. The working group had finished its work in May, 2008. Subsequently, it appears that the government had decided to proceed with holding gram sabhas at 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, 2008, the process began in Attapaddy District in some selected gram sabhas - only those 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 but subsequently seem to have been called in several areas during September 2008.
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 livelihood. The process seems to be ignoring villages that are on the fringes or who have forest land but no actual forest.
The Kerala government guidelines have also put in place an elaborate electoral process (appointment of officers to conduct elections, call for nomination papers and their scrutiny, conduct of elections, counting, and issue of certificate to those winning elections) for elections to the FRCs. These have come in for criticism as being an excessive bureaucratisation of the democratic process, which is not necessary if the gram sabhas are held at the hamlet level.
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, declare and demarcate community forest resources and prepare for implementation of the Act. On 1 November 2008, a mass public rally was held primarily on the issue of community control over forests. In response, the Forest Department has launched an intense effort to organise JFM Committees in as many villages as possible in an effort to undermine and take control over efforts by communities to assert their rights over forest protection and management.
As of September 2009, reports indicated that implementation had hardly gone forward anywhere in the State, despite news reports in which the Forest Minister referred (incorrectly) to 'distribution' of land under the Act. However, the ST Minister has announced grand plans for development of Adivasis including provision of homestead under FRA which has been virtually reduced to a land allocation welfare scheme rather than rights settlement.
There was an initial burst of activity in February 2008, when Forest Rights Committees were constituted in several districts of southern Karnataka. In some areas Committees were constituted without even holding a gram sabha. Elected representatives and local organisations protested to demand the cancellation of these Committees. The process then came to a halt due to state elections. Since then, it appears that District Level Committees and Sub-Divisional Level Committees have been set up in some districts, but information is very poor.
In October 2008, fresh orders were issued by the CM's office to constitute Forest Rights Committees by November 4th, but it is not clear if this happened in all areas. The Forest Department has been attempting to push JFM Committees into the role of Forest Rights Committees.
In tiger reserves, the administration along with some environmental NGO's such as Wildlife First has been spreading false propaganda to the effect that people will now be relocated with a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs per family without clarifying that rights must be recognised first and that relocation can only take place with the informant consent of the gram sabhas and only if it has been scientifically proven that co-existance is not possible..
In the area in which the BRT Hills wildlife sanctuary falls, representatives of Soligas have been made members of both the SDLCs and DLC. The District Collector is willing to approve the Soligas’ claim for ownership rights over NTFPs but the DFO has till now refused his consent citing a Supreme Court order of February 2000. Upto date information about further developments is not readily available.
In Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, in mid-May 2009, four adivasi homes were demolished in the hamlet of Nanachicovu hadi. At least seven families have reportedly already accepted cash compensation and moved out, though it is illegal for any relocation to take place prior to the recognition of rights (which has not even been initiated in the area) and it is also illegal to provide only cash compensation. Reportedly the authorities are not accepting claims from tribals under the Forest Rights Act. There is increasing pressure on people to accept the cash compensation and to move.
The implementation of the Act was technically begun in the two Scheduled Tribe districts around April or May 2008. Election of FRCs was made one of the agenda items of the Panchayat gram sabha meetings held soon after. Neither the officials conducting the meetings nor the villagers had any information about the Act. Filing of claims was apparently due to begin in December 2008. The Act is yet to be extended to other districts of the state. In H.P. all residents of the scheduled districts are considered to be STs.
However, the considerable population of nomadic pastoralists of Gaddis and Gujjars, who are scheduled as tribes in H.P., either lives outside these districts or visits their alpine pastures only seasonally. It is this section of the population which could benefit considerably through clear recognition of their rights both to their seasonal pastures and their migratory routes. However, the rules do not provide any clarity about the procedure to be followed for recognising the rights of such nomadic communities which pass through not only multiple gram sabhas but also multiple districts and sometimes 2 or 3 states. On November 27, 2008, a meeting was jointly organised by an organisation working with pastoralists and the state forest department, at which representatives of Gaddis and Gujjars were also present, to brainstorm on how to proceed with enabling these communities to claim their rights.
Himachal is quite unique among Indian states in having well recorded forest rights of local communities. The main problem is that practically all the recorded rights are individual rights with no recognition of community forest protection and management rights. Local activists are attempting to persuade the state government to primarily focus on recognising such community forest rights under the FRA.
No meaningful implementation of the Act appears to have begun as of June 2009. It was reported in the press that the Chief Minister had stated that there is no need for this Act in Uttarakhand, as all forest rights are already settled (which is untrue). However, in September 2008 the Nainital High Court had issued a contempt notice to the director of the Rajaji National Park for attempting to forcibly relocate the Van Gujjar communities in the park, in violation of the earlier orders of the High Court directing him to recognise their rights under the Forest Rights Act. The park director had responded that he had no authority to recognise rights under the Act. The state government was then made a party to the petition and in its order dated 26.9.08, the High Court instructed the government to constitute the required committees under the Rules and initiate the process of claims being filed within a period of 60 days.
In mid October 09 more than 100 families were evicted from the Rajaji National Park in direct violation of the court order. These families have managed to return to their lands with the support of local movements. In late 08, SDLCs and DLCs were constituted which got some faulty FRCs nominated. During a public dialogue with the PCCF and the Collector of Dehradun district organized in June 09 as part of an international conference, the govt officials accepted that correct procedures had not been followed in the constitution of FRCs and that these needed to be reconstituted. They also made a commitment to support proper implementation of the Act but there has been little progress since then.
In February 2008, Forest Rights Committees were formed by the concerned BDOs at the G.P level and Sarpanches were nominated/selected as the ex-officio presidents of the Committees; as such the process has largely been violated and gram sabhas were hardly held. The whole process has been carried out by the Revenue and Forest officials and the tribal department has no knowledge of it. In some areas the Forest Department has been continuing with cashew plantations on people's lands. The government has reportedly blocked implementation of the Act in mining areas.
It seems that the State Level Monitoring Committee, the District Level Committees and the Sub-Divisional Level Committees have not yet been constituted as of June 2009, though in any case the process for demarcating "critical wildlife habitats" appears to be underway.
Since mid 09, Gakuved, a federation of the Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Adivasis become active indemanding implementation of the FRA. The federation organized a people’s tribunal on 30-31 May on land where forest officuals claimed they had no idea about the Act or their responsibilities under it. But a committee to for declaring Critical Wildlife Hasbitat has been constituted. Tribals in Goa were granted ST status only in 2003-04 although most forest land in the state is tribal land. In 1968, the government had promised to issue land titles to people living in wildlife sanctuaries but the FD claims to be still doing the survey of the land. District Level Committees have been formed in both South Goa and North Goa. FRCs have been constituted in some villages as Khopigao and Gaodongri in Canacona Taluka of South Goa. Claim forms have reached BDO’s office. But the process of submission of claims was yet to begin in the State as on end October 2009. However, in mining areas as Rivona village in Sanguem Taluka where people have been protesting mining activities, no attempt to constitute FRCs have been initiated by the authorities.
The Forest Rights Act was extended to the State in October 2009 (under Article 371G of the Constitution, no Central law applying to land or its resources applies to Mizoram unless the same is extended to the State by the State Assembly).