A State level public hearing on the issues and challenges in recognition of community forest rights in the State was organized by a group of Civil Society Organizations supported by Oxfam India on 11th Jan 2015 at Hotel Presidency, Bhubaneswar. The Public Hearing was inaugurated by Jual Oram, Minister, Tribal Affairs, Government of India. Mr. Akshya Kumar Biswal, Regional Manager, Oxfam India, Odisha Office welcomed the guests and participants of the programme and shared the objectives of holding the Public Hearing.
Prabhat Kumar Mishra of RCDC shared the important FRA implementation issues in the State focusing the challenges in the recognition of community forest rights. In his key note sharing, he shared that “in that last six years of FRA implementation in the State, the State government has totally failed to properly recognize CFR rights in the State. There is consistent misunderstanding at the State level Monitoring Committee (SLMC), at the SDLC and DLC over what to and how to recognize Community forest rights in the State. The State Forest Department is not cooperating Gram Sabha/FRC in field verification process, rather it is obstructing in the way recognition of community forest rights in the State.”
In the inaugural session, Pradip Prabhu, Convenor, National Campaign for Survival and Dignity(CSD), Jual Oram, Minister, MoTA, Nikolash Barla, president of the Odisha Indigenous people’s forum and Sanjay Upadhyaya, Supreme Court Lawyer joined in the programme as guests.
Addressing the gathering in the first session, Pradip Prabhu reminded the struggles of the tribals who never allowed the Britishers to rule over them. He said “Forest Rights Act, 2006 cannot be implemented by the bureaucrats in its true spirit and it can only be implemented by the community people themselves.” He called upon the people to come forward and implement the FRA in their own village and said, “Fighting for the implementation of community forest rights means fighting to save own motherland”.
Jual Oram in his speech emphasized on the development of the tribals in the changing scenario and said, “Our government is not only committed for the protection of the constitutional rights of the tribal and tribal areas but also committed for their development”. He ruled out any dilution of the Forest Rights Act by his Government but hinted at relaxing the Gram Sabha’s consent in diversion of forest land for the developmental activities in the villages. He also informed about bringing new independent wings i.e. Sports and Culture within the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
Nikolash Barla also talked on the resistance of the tribals during the freedom struggle and emphasized on the implementation of PESA Act, 1996 in its true spirit. He said, “The State Government has diluted the Central PESA, Act, 1997 while implementing it in the State.” He also pointed out the failure on the part of the Governors of the State who are the constitutional authorities to protect the constitutional rights of the tribals and tribal area.”
Sanjay Upapadhyaya addressing the gathering said, “We have to see the constitutional provisions i.e. the provisions of the scheduled 5th and 6th area, the provisions of PESA, 1996 and Forest rights Act. 2006 together and have to understand the intention behind these enactments while implementing them.” Re-emphasizing the authority of the Gram Sabha established under FRA, he gave examples of various Supreme Court (SC) judgments where the apex court has explicitly authorized the local community as the owner of its natural resources and defined Central and State governments as its custodian.
In the second session, the formal Public Hearing was started and total 20 cases of different problems being faced in the grounds were presented before the jury consisting of Pradip Prabhu, Sanjay Uppapadhyaya, Aurobinda Behera and Mrs. Jakesi Oram.
These 20 cases include:
- Faulty and haphazard recognition of community forest rights in Lathikumpa Village of Kandhamal district, Jatra village of Keunjhar district, Jhinkermal village of Bolangir district etc;
- Non-recognition of rights over Community Forest Resources(CFR) despite claims filed in B and C form in Raghunathpur village of Angul district, Pitaldhua village of Dhenkanal district, Duvia village of Mayurbhanja district and Naranpur village in Balsore district etc;
- Forceful plantation by forest department with VSS members over the individual and community forest land despite IFR titles issued over the land in village Kamanibandh in Deogarh district;
- No initiative from government’s side despite application for conversion of forest and un-surveyed Banakala and Kamanibandha villages in Deogarh district and Kutenpen village in Sundargarh district;
- llegal attempts of wildlife Department with the district administration to relocate community people without recognition of individual and community forest rights from Jamunagarh village in Similipal Tiger Reserve(Sanctuary) in Mayurbhanja district and from Kuturi village in Satkosia Tiger Reserve(Sanctuary) in Nayagarh district;
- Illegal attempts of district administration for diversion of forest land without forest rights settlement from Patrapali village in Jharsuguda district, from Randa village in Sundargarh district and from Bholbeda village in Keunjhar district;
- Non recognition of Juanga PTG habitat rights despite application from last 2010 over Satakhanda Junaga Pirha in Bansalpal block of Keunjar district;
- Non cooperation of forest department in recognition of community ownership rights(use and disposal) over Minor Forest Produce(Bamboo) despite claims in Jamuguda village in Kalahandi district and over Kendu leaf in Narigoan village in Nabarangpur district etc.
The Jury members gave their comments and views after hearing the cases one by one. At the end of the programme, Mr. Tushar Dash of Vasundhara shared the future strategies to deal with the cases while Miss Gargi Das from CPF gave ‘Vote of Thanks’ to all the Guests, Jury Members and Participants of the Public Hearing. Around 200 tribals and forest dwellers, members of Civil Society Organizations from different tribal districts participated in the Public Hearing.