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Odisha tribal villages reject compensatory afforestation committees, call it violation of Forest Rights Act

By Our Representative
Emboldened by a major victory in the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, where the Dongria Kondh tribals’ sustained campaign forced the multinational company Vedanta to withdraw its proposed plan to mine bauxite for its aluminium refinery, the forest dwellers of the state have begun rejecting the state government efforts to “impose” Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) with the help of compensatory afforestation funds, coming from Government of India.
While the Odisha government claims to have set up 12,500 JFMCs under the Ama Jungle Yojana (AJY) in order to “promote” compensatory afforestation, the forest dwellers of Bolangir district have given a blow to the Forest Department by calling Gram Sabhas under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 calling these JFMCs as “illegal”.
Four villages, Gulmi, Satbohani, Gudguda and Siajhundangi in Titlagarh block of Bolangir district, recently called special Gram Sabhas using Section 6 of FRA, 2006, and dissolved JFMCs. In Sialjhundangi, where the Gram Sabha was called on July 30, the forest dwellers passed a resolution to take under its winds 2,500 acres, surrounding the village, calling it “common resource.”
Sending them to district and state government officials, the resolutions condemned the Forest Department for its “illegal” attempt to reform JFMCs under AJY. The state government wants to popularise all its schemes using “aamo”, “mo” but the main target of the AJY is to form JFMC in villages and to spend money in the name of plantation and forest protection, they add.
Being set up with Central money, including a loan of Rs 1,509.50 crore from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), JFMCs, say local civil rights organizations, are contrary to the spirit of contradictory to the spirit of FRA, 2006, which, they say, seeks to “undo the historical injustice done with forest dwellers of the country, superseding existing forest, wildlife and non-timber forest products (NTFP) and panchayat laws.”
FRA, 2006, the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, says, empowers the Gram Sabhas/forest dwellers to form independent Forest Protection and Management Committees (FP&MCs), exclusively taking their own members, as against the JFMCs, in which forester/forest guard is the ex-officio secretary, who maintains and controls accounts/Gram Sabha register etc.
CSD says, “FRA, 2006 recognises traditional ways of forest protection and management contradicting the existing ‘scientific’ forest management on which the whole system of forest protection and management stands and controlled by forest bureaucracy since the colonial period.”
The whole effort of forming JMFCs, claims CSD in a note, is to ensure that Forest Department officials dominate Gram Sabhas, allowing them to “misappropriate funds” given by the Centre “in the name of forest/wildlife protection, forest regeneration/plantation and management, etc.”, and also “cut” and “sell” trees hand in glove with the timber/wild life mafia.
Under compensatory afforestation (CAMPA), the Government of India has allocated Rs 42,000 crore for the country as a whole, all of it, alleges CSD, is sought to be used to “divert forest land”. Not without reason, it adds, the BJP government in the Centre passed on July 28 in Parliament CAMPA Bill, 2016 with the aim of “bypassing” tribal Gram Sabhas.
Ironically, despite opposition by CSD and some other civil rights organizations, some NGOs are engaged in mobilising forest dwellers to implement AJY in villages. Condemning this, CSD calls these NGOs “money-minded” who have lost their “moral responsibility towards the tribals and society at large and got involved in AJY by forming anti-FRA JFMCs.

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