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Less than 15% of Odisha tribals' community rights recognized, thousands of forest land claims rejected: CSD activists

Participants in the CSD rally
By Our Representative
The tribal rights group Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, has revealed that while around 40,000 mainly tribal villages are eligible to get community rights over forests, the state government has “haphazardly recognized” community forest rights of just about 5,964 (14.91%) of them, including 1070 in Kandhamal, followed by Keonjhar (511), Mayurbhanja (414), Kalahandi (185), Rayagarda (178), Malkangiri (74), and Koraput (58) districts.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, also known as Forest Rights Act (FRA), gave traditional forest dwellers their rights to access, manage and govern forest lands and resources within village boundaries, which had been controlled by the forest department since colonial times.
Under the law, forest dwellers can apply to state governments for either individual or community forest rights, which means they can take ownership of the process of protecting and conserving forests in their areas. They can also gather and sell minor forest produce such as tendu leaves or bamboo, which was an illegal activity before the law was enacted.
Things are no better with regard to individual forest rights (IFR), said CSD, noting that as on December 31, Dec 2017, just about 1,040 IFR claims of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) have been approved, while only 628 OTFDs have issued IFR titles, including 555 in Sundargarh, 15 in Angul, 11 in Rayagarda and 47 in Malkangiri districts.
Addressing a rally in Bhubaneshwar, organized by the CSD to highlight the rights of the tribals in Odisha, Duleswar Bhoi from Deogarh district wondered, “If OTFDs of these districts are eligible under FRA, 2006, how OTFDs living in other districts are ineligible?”, adding, “State bureaucrats are responsible for the low recognition of IFR rights to the OTFDs in the state.”
Providing more details, Meghnath Kharsel from Nuapada district, leader of the Jami Jungle Mukti Andolan, a CSD affiliate, said a whopping 1,48,870 IFR claims have been rejected in Odisha, insisting, the state’s governor should urgently look into this problem.
In all, about 5,000 tribals and OTDTs marched in the city from Master Canteen and to Lower PMG, where a public meeting was organised. The protesters’ slogans included “Gram Sabha Sarkar Zindabad”, “CAF (Compensation Afforestation Fund) Act Radkaro”, “Adibasi Virodhi 28th March 2017 NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) Order Radkaro”, Gosti Adhikar Aamar Dabi”, “Samasta Swikruti Praptya jungle Jami Chinhata Kara”, and so on.
Gopinath Majhi, convener, CSD, Odisha, said, special focus of the march was to point towards how the CAF Act is seeking to accumulate funds in order to destroy forests by undermining the forest dwellers’ rights, even as empowering the Forest Department.
“Even the draft rules ignore the demands we made before the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India. They dilute the provisions of the FRA, undermining the authority of the Gram Sabhas and exclude the rights of the holding communities from decision-making by stipulating that compensatory afforestation activities would be undertaken in consultation with Van Samrakshan Samitis or Village Forest Committees”, Manjhi said.
Karmi Besara of Odisha Narisamaj slammed the Odisha government for deciding to stop implementation of Central government’s “MSP (minimum support price) for MFP (minor forest produce)” scheme, demanding “fair price” to minor forest produce gatherers, creation of proper storage place for the collected produce, and to support for value addition, if any.
The protest rally saw opposition to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which seeks to restrict the implementation of the FRA implementation in tiger reserves, with speakers demanding its immediate withdrawal.

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