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Forest dwellers yet to benefit from Forest Rights Act

Ranchi , Mon, 06 Jun 2011 ANI

Ranchi, June 6 (ANI): Most of us are unaware of or unconcerned with the kind of turbulence that marks the life of those who live deep in the forests having social cultural norms vastly different from the rest of society. Their way of life, of earning a living, their sense of affinity with the forest is a whole new world of relationships and patterns, which can be undecipherable to those outside that world.


Yet we have to know that we are speaking of a large constituency of those who make up the ' adivasis and forest dwelling communities' across vast swathes of this country. It is this very constituency that has been kept in focus by the policy makers in drafting and by the legislatures in passing the Forest Rights Act, 2006.


The Act is meant to protect and promote the interests of adivasis, forest dwellers and 'Adim Jan Jati' or the original inhabitants of the earth. Those who live in dense forests, whose lives revolve around natural resources; Water, Forest and Land which form the trinity for the adivasis ' Jal Jangal Jameen'.


It is a move to recognise the rights, forest dwellers have on the land they have cultivated or gathered forest produce down the ages. It seeks to protect these traditional rights to their livelihood and food security.


The question is how effective is this Act really in protecting the interests of these communities. It is vital to understand the provisions of the Act, match them with the implementation process and thus come to an understanding.


In Jharkhand, this was done as a study within a limited territory and the findings can be used as a 'dip-stick' to gauge its impact. The Forest Right Act 2006 suggests giving 10 acres land to people in and around the forest. This has not happened.


Across villages in different districts and regions; Bundu, Tamad, Jonha, Gumla, Palamu, Gadwa, Latehar and Chatra, villagers have demanded that land be registered in their names and have presented papers pertaining to this. In Kori village, Simiriya block, 95 Adim Jan Jati families have been cultivating this land for generations.


On filing their papers, they came up against a wall virtually. The block officers told them that they would get only two decimal lands per family. Budha Birohar of Kori village said, "I applied for the land in 2010. The officers want to give me only two decimal land, but I don't want to take such a small piece of land. I want this land for cultivation, and one can't do any agricultural work on such a small piece of land."


Others like the Birohars of Mithila Tola, Simiriya are probably worse off. They are not even aware of the Forest Act, its provisions and thus have no idea how it could benefit them. . It is pertinent to ask here why no officer from the forest authorities or state department has ever visited them to familiarise them with an Act meant for their benefit primarily?


In Ranchi's Bundu area, it is the same story. For the 195 families of Adim Jan Jati in Omanburu village, land they have been traditionally cultivating is not registered in their names. They have applied to claim the land but months have passed without any official word on this.


This situation is endemic. The implementation of the Act began in right earnest in 2008 and thousands of people have submitted claim forms across several districts, but the land allotment still eludes them.


According to sources, 25,220 claim forms were submitted till 2009. Entitlement certificates were given only to 2505 people, while 336 forms were rejected. What about the rest? Who is answerable? Obviously the system needs to come up with credible answers. What is at stake is the very security and dignity of the adivasis, which the Forest Act seeks to uphold, to protect.


To add insult to injury, there is a burgeoning section of middlemen making hay while the sun shines. One of the ways of exploiting the adivasis is the sale of claim forms, which are provided free by the government. They are sold at the exorbitant prices of Rs.200-500/- to the villagers.


Worse, the middlemen have resorted to the sale of photocopies of the original claim forms. Photocopies are liable to get rejected by the authorities, which the hapless villagers find out late in the day, much to their chagrin and are at that stage left high and dry.


Who is responsible for these lacunae in the implementation stages of this all-important Act? Why are the claim forms not made easily available to the villagers along with an orientation on the provisions of the Act and how to go about getting your rights? Is it such a tall order or is it made out to be such, deliberately complicating the procedures for benefits of another kind; for entirely another class of people?


Villagers have now begun to understand and take matters in their own hands. In the forests of Simiriya, they called a meeting and set up a Rights Committee to press for their demands. A list of 16 people was drawn up from different Tolas of Gumla district, those who did not have their lease rights recognized.


The Block Development Officer (BDO) vested with the right to distribute lease rights rejected the very existence of this Committee while officials in the area stick to the stand that the BDO will do the needful. Again, the villagers like Sudhir Kerketta, Juel Kerketta and a widow Anjela Hemrem of Gumla despite a valiant effort to garner their rights find themselves at a loss.


The Forest Act can indeed have a salutary effect on the vexed question of land rights which hangs like a Damocles sword over thousands of adivasi and forest dwelling families in Jharkhand.


It is tragic is that the intent of the Act has not been translated on the ground. By strengthening the links of these communities, to the land, it can infact open up further opportunities for the collection and use of forest produce through market linkages and processing industries. It could lead to plantation of fruit trees and increase the variety of produce from the forest.


According to the Charkha Development Communication network, the possibilities are limitless, but till they remain mired in a closed mind-set and a political inertia, they still remain a wish list. By Aloka Kujur (ANI)


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