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Forest Rights Act & Conservation Conundrum-The Plight of Orissa
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Pratap Kishore Mohanty

Forest Rights Act & Conservation Conundrum-The Plight of Orissa

                                                                  Pratap Kishore Mohanty*

Prior to the enactment of the Forest Rights Bill, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court of India on 21 June 2004, Government of India made a very significant admission that 'the historical injustice done to the tribal forest dwellers through non-recognition of their traditional rights must be finally rectified. This marked a historic departure from the colonial perspective that has characterized state regulations of forests, which regards forests as preserves of nature that necessarily should ideally be devoid of human habitation; and which regards the state's role as the sole legal and natural monopolistic guardian of the country's forest wealth.

The Indian Forest Act, 1927, the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, and the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, are all based on the common principle that “any human 'interference' in a forest ecosystem would lead to its destruction”. This legal perspective ignores that tribal groups also form an integral and natural part of this ecosystem, both surviving from the forest and at the same time preserving it. Indeed, just prior to its admission to the highest court of the land, the Indian government had ordered on 3 May, 2002 the eviction of all forest encroachers', leading in just four months to the expulsion of around 300,000 impoverished cultivators from over 152,000 hectares. Mass protests and destitution finally persuaded the Government of India to introduce in Parliament on 13 December 2005, the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 and the rest is a shy of relief to a considerable extent.

Against a colonial legacy of commercial timber harvesting and rampant hunting, the dawning of India’s conservation era since the early 1970s has resulted in the creation of an extensive network of protected areas – national parks, tiger reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries, buttressed by a formidable legislative and institutional framework. A landmark event in this conservation history was the passing of the Wild Life Protection Act in 1972, which provided for the constitution of state wildlife advisory boards, sanctuaries, and national parks; the total protection of 133 endangered species of mammals, birds, and reptiles; and strict penalties for violations of the Act. The following year saw the launching of the central government - sponsored Project Tiger scheme with substantial financial and advisory inputs by the World Wildlife Fund. Initially implemented in nine reserves, each divided into core and buffer zones, Project Tiger advocated an ‘ecosystems approach’ for the elimination of all forms of ‘human exploitation’ in the former and the ‘rationalization’ of activities in the latter. Its mandate was strengthened through further legislation: the 42nd Amendment Act to the Indian Constitution in 1976, which enabled both Parliament and state governments to pass legislation relating to forest and wildlife conservation with national law prevailing in the event of conflict. This Amendment also included two new articles: Article 48-A which reinforced the State’s role in protecting and improving the environment and safeguarding forests and wildlife, and Article 51-G, which described the protection of the environment, forests, and wildlife as ‘the duty of every citizen of India’. This was followed by a further spate of activities: the creation of a Department of Environment in 1980, upgraded five years later to a full-fledged Ministry; the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which prohibited states from de-notifying reserve forests and restricted their use for non-forest purposes; and the Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986 empowering the central government to coordinate all activities relating to resource management. In 1986 and 1991, further amendments were made to the Wild Life Act, including a total ban on trade in animal products; protection for specified plants; greater restrictions in sanctuaries; and increased penalties and powers of prosecution for wildlife wardens. At the close of the century, this legislative commitment to wildlife conservation has led to a dramatic increase in protected areas from 65 in 1970 to 554 in early 2000, covering 4.69 percent of the country’s total land area. But within this extensive network, conflict has been endemic. Surveys conducted in the 1990s revealed clashes between Forest Department/Project Tiger staff and local residents over poaching, illegal grazing, coercive relocation programs with woefully inadequate compensation packages, and human and livestock deaths caused by animal attacks in 47 out of 222 protected areas. This is hardly surprising given the presence of at least 3 million people, mostly belonging to scheduled castes and tribes, who live inside over half of India’s protected areas without access to basic facilities and often under severely restrictive regimes. To add to this disturbing scenario, competing economic agendas of state governments have led to the de-notification of portions of several parks and sanctuaries for mining, road and dam construction, all of which have undermined efforts to conserve these areas.

 

The aforesaid conservation initiatives have its own merit and especially in the present context every national and international forum have started giving serious thought on global warming and such related development. Nevertheless, amidst these entire clamors no state can leave aside the genuine livelihood concern of its largest bulk of population of aborigines and other traditional forest dwell The act speaks about the historical injustice since long and provisions laid down for a transparent and judicious recognition of their rights over forest resources. The act has also institutionalized the process of community conservation as a corollary to resource governance.

 

In this backdrop “The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006” needs special mention with reference to Orissa. Orissa has a total population of 36.81 million, which accounts for 3.57% of the total population of India. The scheduled tribes (ST) and scheduled castes (SC) constitute respectively 22.13 and 16.53% of the total population. There are 62 tribal communities have been designated as Scheduled Tribes of which 13 have been recognized as Primitive Tribal Groups. Nearly half the State’s area (44.70 %) is under Schedule V of the Indian constitution with a total population of 8,870,884 (1991 census), out of which 68% is constituted by tribal population and 20 % is constituted by Scheduled Caste population. According to Haans & Dubey, in 1999-2000, 73 % of the Scheduled Tribes in Orissa were below poverty line as compared to 55 % and 33 % respectively for Scheduled Castes and General Castes. The estimate for 2003 elevates this number to 87% of Scheduled tribes living below poverty line. Data collected by Kundan Kumar in his paper “Dispossessed and displaced” tells us that almost 8111.55 sq. km. (5%) of Orissa have been declared as protected areas (Sanctuaries and National Parks). The majority of these protected areas are located in the Scheduled V areas or unclear areas where there is a large concentration of tribal population.

 

Leaving aside the total forest resources on which the tribals have been critically depending upon for livelihood concern, the tale of protected areas in Orissa is an alarming one. The irony is that, due to govt apathy, the procedures laid down by the rule of the act have never taken in its spirit and the implementation process seems to be very casual.

 

 

                                                                            Table-1

NUMBER OF VILLAGES & POPULATION IN THE PROTECTED AREAS IN ORISSA

 

Sl. #

Protected Area

Status

Number of villages

Number of households

Number of inhabitants

Location

1

Simlipal

Proposed National Park

4 core villages.

  • Kabatghai

  • Jamunagarh

  • Jenabil

  • Bakua

(Management plan, Forest Dept. Govt. of Orissa-1987-88 to 1996-97)

Kabatghai-20

Jamunagarh-18

Jenabil-27

Bakua-21

Total-86

(2001 census)

Kabatghai-115

Jamunagarh-96

Jenabil-145

Bakua-80

Total-435

(All the inhabitants are Scheduled tribes)

(2001 census)

Mayurbhanj

2

Bhitarkanika

National park

Nil

 

Nil

Kendrapada

3

Badrama

Deemed Wildlife Sancturay

72 (including hamlets)

(Survey undertaklen by a local NGO, Sambalpur Integrated Development Institute)

 

25 Revenue villages

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

-                              

 

 

 

 

               

Sambalpur

4

Gahirmatha Marine

Finally Notified

Nil

 

Nil

Kendrapada

5

Bhitarkanika

Wildlife Sanctuary

410

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

 

2 lakhs

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

Kendrapada

6

Satkosia Gorge

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

5 2

Wild Orissa 04’

 

102

Vasundhara, 2004

 

-

 

 

 

37,825 (2001 Census)

Angul, Cuttack, Nayagarh

7

Hadgad

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

16 villages

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

 

6538

(Wild Orissa 04’)

Keonjhar

8

Nandankanan

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

Nil

 

Nil

Khurda

9

Baisipalli

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

35

(A local Organisation Satkosia Praja Surakhya Samiti),

 

5874 (2001 Census)

Nayagarh & Boudh

10

Kotgad Wildlife

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

62

(Wild Orissa 04’)

65

(Office of DFO,Baliguda, as quoted in Issues in Sanctuaries and National parks in Orissa)

 

9178

(Wild Orissa 04’)

9911

(Office of DFO,Baliguda as quoted in Issues in Sanctuaries and National parks in Orissa)

Phulbani

11

Chandaka

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

47

Wild Orissa 04’

 

 

 

-

Khurda & Cuttack

12

Khalasuni

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

10

(Wild Orissa 04)

 

 

Sambalpur

13

Kuldiha

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

20

(Vasundhara)

 

-

Balasore

14

Balukhand Konark

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

36 villages.

* 5 inside the sanctuary

*31 adjoining the boundary line.

(RO of Konark as quoted in Issues in Sanxtuaries and National Parks in Orissa)

 

 

Puri

15

Debrigarh

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

7 villages

  • Debrigarh

  • Mundakati

  • Lambipalli

  • JhagadaBehera

 

* 3 more villages to be included.

Debrigarh-8

Mundakabi-35

Lambipalli-15

Jaugadabehera-21

Total-79

Debrigarh-30

Mundakabi-183

Lambipalli-68

Jhagadabehera-152

Total-463

(All the inhabitants from the 1st three villages are scheduled tribes and the fourth village has a mixture of ST and OBC)

 

Source- Office of DFO, Hirakud Wildlife Division, Sambalpur

Sambalpur & Bargarh

16

Lakhari Valley

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

23

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

51

(Vasundhara)

 

2145

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

6945

(Vasundhara)

Gajapati

17

Sunabeda

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

75

(Wild Orissa 04’)

62

(District Collector ate Office)

 

 

 

 

  22,000 (approx)

(Vasundhara)

Nuapada

18

Nalabana

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

Nil

 

Nil

Khurda, Puri & Ganjam

19

Karlapat

Deemed Wildlife Sanctaury

52 including 3 un-surveyed villages

(Vasundhara)

 

1455

(Vasundhara)

 

Kalahandi

20

Simlipal

Deemed Wildlife Sanctuary

65 including 4 in the core area

(Wild Orissa 04’)

 

 

12,000

(2001 census)

Mayurbhanj

Source- Wild Orissa, S.C.Mohanty, C.S.Kar, S.K.Kar, L.A.K.Singh, State Wildlife  Organization, Forest Dept. Govt. of Orissa, Oct,2004

 

 

To a considerable extent, Orissa portrays a very confusing scenario as far as the different shades of livelihood and conservation initiatives are concerned both from govt, NGO and activists point of view.  Literature and Vasundhara’s independent research on protected areas gives a stunning picture of the plight of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers in Orissa. It also initiates a fresh debate whether such a large populace and its life and livelihood will be thrown away for the sake of conservation or not. Conservation need is not a new one. Rather conservation politics is a completely new theme constructively engaged in disenchantment of the people living in these areas.

The objective of public policy should be to harmonize the potentially conflicting interests of people and wildlife resources. For the purpose, both conservation and development programmes must involve the people concerned (forest villages, foresters, development agencies), so they are ultimately successful. One issue raised by many critics is; how and who will stop villagers either from being exploited by stakes, or from ignoring the above responsibilities as their own populations and needs increase? This is indeed a valid concern, given that significant destruction has taken place in many forest areas due to these reasons. However, it is also true that where communities have mobilized themselves or been helped to mobilize (as in the case of many joint forest management sites or even some protected areas like some areas in Orissa), they have managed to tackle these problems. The key has been the creation of institutional structures to face the challenges of outside forces and internal change, changes in behavior and management strategies, and enhancement of livelihood options to reduce excessive pressure on natural resources. There are literally thousands of such sites, some of them well documented, if only we as conservationists cared to look.

 

                                      

 

 

Profile of Forest Protection Groups in Orissa:

Sl No

Name of district

No of blocks

No of villages protecting forest

1

Sonepur

05

236

2

Nuapada

03

146

3

Rayagada

11

216

4

Ganjam

15

111

5

Sundargarh

18

332

6

Bargarh

13

189

7

Kandhamal

12

415

8

Keonjhar

12

363

9

Angul

08

838

10

Nuapada

07

146

11

Nabarangpur

11

462

12

Deogarh

03

245

13

Sambalpur

08

385

14

Mayurbhanj

16

408

15

Koraput

14

624

16

Bolangir

14

587

17

Boudh

3

219

18

Gajapati

7

282

Total

180

6428

                                        Source: RCDC Survey Report

 

Amongst the least debated provisions of the Act, which is considered extremely important, is the one providing communities the right to protect and manage any traditionally conserved ‘community forest resource’, and to impose penalties on anyone violating traditional rules of conservation. Across India, a quietly growing phenomenon that many conservationists who only roam around in national parks and sanctuaries have been blind to is that of community-conserved areas (CCAs). There are hundreds of such sites, where tribal or other communities are conserving natural or semi-natural ecosystems, very many with significant wildlife or biodiversity value. We believe this is only the tip of the iceberg, as everywhere we have gone to investigate such sites, we have been told of dozens more. For all the acrimony of the debate on the Act one should be hopeful that there would be a resolution between conservationists and human rights activists (and amongst various strands within these sections). Enough people on all sides of the spectrum are convinced that both forest dwellers and wildlife have been given a raw deal, that the biggest problem is not one against the other but the juggernaut of industrial development versus both, and that therefore a unified approach is the only way to protect both environment and livelihoods.

                                                                  

 

 

Table-2

Forest Area Diverted to Non- Forest use in Orissa from 2001 to 2005

Sl. No

Year

Number of Projects

Area diverted to non forest Use(In Hectare)

1

2000-1

27

1219.06

2

2001-2

20

1711.74

3

2002-3

15

508.18

4

2003-4

23

1493.71

5

2004-5

9

1274.39

6

2005-6

26

2153.68

 

Total

120

8360.76

Source:- Economic Survey , 2006-7Annexure-6-2


 

Presently the problem with regard to conservation and livelihood concern has gone beyond a limit, wherein the corridors of judiciary have taken a lead role. In Orissa, cases have already been filed in the Hon’ble High Court, questioning the different facets of the act. The most horrible part of these cases not only stems from the conservation concern rather some of them have started questioning the veracity of PESA. One needs to understand that that the present legislation as is stated in its preamble does not aim to legitimize the encroachments. Rather it aims to recognize the legitimate rights of Forest dwelling communities, which had not been recorded properly during consolidation of state forests. Further, this Act talk of recognizing rights on only those forest areas those are already under various kinds of use. The act has also prescribed a framework of procedures to identify eligible claimants through Gram Sabhas and committees constituted at various levels involving Govt. officials /elected representatives while excluding ineligible encroachers. Hence, the question of legitimizing ineligible encroachers under the present law does not hold true. That the apprehensions regarding loss of forests is unfounded as the granting of rights under Forest Rights Act is only concerned with recognizing rights to land already under cultivation.

 

The organizations and campaigns rigorously fighting for the conservation concerns should not be biased in their approach. Their concern till date might have gained strength if they would have highlighted the extent of rich forest land diverted for different non-forestry purposes. The details of the same till 2005 has been given in the table (Table-2).

 

Lets make the peoples movement more vibrant so that the livelihood concern must not faded away in these unnecessary hue and cry. Orissa has a long history of self-initiated conservation process with every care to livelihood concern. Once the tribal brethren ensured and endowed with their cosmic right, they will themselves be the best vigilant watchdog of the entire forest resources of the state and the country as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

 

 

 

  Radhika Johari, “Conservation Regimes and Identities in India Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation. Department of Anthropology.

 

   Seminar, “Forest and Tribals”August-2005 No-552

 

   Baverstock, Philip. The Price of Progress: Buying Development from the Poor  

   Unpublished paper, Forum for Fact-Finding, Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA)      

   Raipur, India

 

   Haan, A. and A. Dubey, 2003, ‘Extreme Deprivation in Re Explanatory Concept’, paper for  Chronic Poverty and Development Policy Conference, Univ. of Manchester.

 

   Kumar, K. (2006) “Dispossessed and Displaced”. An unpublished paper, Vasundhara.

 

   Kumar, K. Choudhury, P.K A Socio-Economic and Legal Study of Scheduled Tribes Land  

   In Orissa.

 

   Singh, Kavaljeet. “Orissa: From "Backward" to "Investor's Paradise" PIRG/Madhayam    

   Books,   New Delhi. (1997)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



* Pratap Kishore Mohanty is associated with “Vasundhara” a policy,  advocacy and research    organization working on the democratization of natural resource governance in Bhubaneswar, Orissa



Contact Info:
pratapk68@gmail.com
Vasundhara,15- Saheed Nagar Bhubaneswar.
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