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Forest rights Act "promotes" privatisation of land, would "undermine" tribal rights, "help" capitalist clique

By Our Representative
The forest rights Act (FRA), enacted in 2006, may be a major campaign tool of "pro-tribal" NGOs and political parties, as it seeks to provide land title to adivasis. But three well-known scholars – Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni – in a recent book have triggered Hornet’s nest by declaring that it spells "death" for the idea that forests are a community resource whose ownership should remain with tribals. The book, “Economy Ecology: Quest for a Socially Informed Connection”, published by Orient BlackSwan, claims to be a critique of “adverse effects of resource utilization – water, metals, power, land – on adivasi communities.”
Warning that the FRA has opened up Pandora's box for “privatization of forests”, the book says, while the FRA claims to “correct a historical injustice by giving forest dwellers full rights to their land”, in actual practice it “threatens to effect a fast privatization of the forest, spelling death for the symbiosis which maintains the forest as a community resource shared with wildlife.” The authors believe that the FRA will “hasten an undoing of traditional social structure, transforming social relations into the mould of capitalist competition promoted by the mainstream.”
While Padel is professor at the School of Rural Management, Indian Institute of Management, Dandekar is professor at the School of Social Sciences, Central University of Gujarat, on lien from Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), and Unni is director and professor of economics, IRMA. What acquires particular significance to their comment on FRA is, they are closely associated with NGOs working in Gujarat, where the process of handing over land titles had become a major issue in the tribal areas.
In fact, the authors raise a pointed question: “Once thousands of families have established individual entitlement to pieces of forest land, will they preserve forest, or will they hasten a widespread clearance of forests?” They add, “Profound dangers in the FRA are perceived by many who wish to see forests as well as adivasis flourish, and understand the Act’s implications for communities and wildlife at the ground level. In Savyasachi’s view, this Act ‘turns forests into a service provider for capitalism’.”
Quoting yet another scholar, Madhu Ramnath, the authors say, the Act encourages tribal groups to “clear forests wherever they move.” On the other hand, it bans traditional tribal activities such as hunting and fishing. “Both hunting and fishing by traditional methods of bow and arrows or muzzle-loader and fish nets or plant poisons do not basically damage the ecosystem. Continuing the ban on hunting illegalizes a custom at the core of tribal identity and territory, and thereby in a sense promotes illegal hunting, carried out with anger at the injustice.”.
The authors also warn, “The Act empowers gram sabhas in a context where Panchayati Raj is often in effect Sarpanch Raj: the same top-down model prevalent throughout capitalist democracy, where elections depend heavily on funding, and elected representatives frequently make deals with vested interests outside the village, and build top-down clique within it.” They see the FRA only completing the “process of land privatization that started with the ‘Permanent Settlement’ in 1790s – a process begun, as in FRA, with the avowed aim of giving permanent status to people’s customary land rights!”
In fact, the authors believe, this privatization of tribal land may lead to a situation where the process of such activities, like hotel complexes coming up in huge areas near Sarika, Ranthambhore and other sanctuaries, would only accelerate, and illegal encroachment upon common habitat of the tribals and the wildlife would become a reality.
Even then, the authors say, NGOs have used FRA as a “symbol of affirming people’s basic rights – rights they have been denied since colonial times.” And, this is happening at a time when conservationists and social/ political activists confront each other – while the conservationists want tribals out of forests, the social/ political activists want them to give tribal land. “Both confront basically  the same nexus of vested interests”, the authors allege, adding, only “their style differs.” Both seek to dispossess the tribals of their community rights over forests.


Comments

Felix Padel said…
I must point out a bad misquote at the end of this review of our book. On p.177 "both [conservationists & social/political activists] confront basically the same nexus of vested interests [i.e. the corporations & Forest Dept]" is misquoted as "both serve the same nexus" - the opposite meaning!
Rajiv Shah said…
Mr Padel's concern has been addressed. The quote has been corrected.
Felix Padel said…
Thanks for correction, & appreciate review. Yet distortion is still there in final words: dispossession is exactly what activists are fighting, and the main message here in the book is that activists & conservationists need to work together against the nexus that is dispossessing Adivasis & destroying Forest
Jag Jivan said…
Felix Padel's comment amuses me. He says that conservationists and social activists must work together to fight against the "nexus." It means that they are indirectly serving this nexus by not working together and favouring the nexus! Havent read the book, but this appears to be the conclusion he appears to drawing, but is afraid of saying in so in so many words!!!
manisha said…
Misinformed view by the authors OF what FRA purports to do and its legal provisions

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