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PESA Act and FRA sidelined: Tribals of Odisha yet to get complete ownership over MFP

 

Monday June 09, 2014

ODISHA, PESA ACT, FRA 2006, TRIBAL, FOREST, RIGHT  
 

"It's about six months of the mediation for release of Italian Citizens abducted by Maoists and any serious action from the Odisha Government for just implementation of the Acts is still awaited. The shocking part is that, instead of giving rights to the tribal communities, their rights are rather being squeezed on different pleas. Such attitude of Odisha government and its administration largely endangers the livelihood of tribal communities and families dependent on MFP.

 

Dandapani Mohanty

 
 

The recent controversy over tribal right over Bamboo as a Minor Forest Produce (MFP) has raised questions about the implementation of two major central Acts of India – Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act of 1996 and Forest Right Act (FRA) of 2006. While PESA Act empowers the communities living in the Schedule V Areas with ownership of MFP, FRA or ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ further extended it to the tribal and non-tribal forest dwelling communities even in non-scheduled areas.

Citing that improper implementation or non- implementation of these Acts in the scheduled areas are the primary cause of growing conflict in the tribal populated regions, the issues were presented by the interlocutors, who mediated for release of two abducted Italian Citizens, in a constitutional framework and the Odisha government was appealed to implement these Acts with all seriousness and in their true spirit.

 

It’s about six months of the mediation and any serious action from the Odisha Government for just implementation of the Acts is still awaited. The shocking part is that, instead of giving rights to the tribal communities, their rights are rather being squeezed on different pleas. Such attitude largely endangers the livelihood of tribal communities and families dependent on MFP.

While over One crore tribal families depend on various Minor Forest Produces, over 20 lakh families live on Tendu leaf and over One lakh tribal and artisan families live on bamboo.

While PESA Act and rights given to the communities living in scheduled areas find least mention by the policy makers and the executives who are in charge of implementing it, there have been some sorts of hue and cry emanating from certain quarters at periodical interval to create confusion in the minds of policy makers, implementing bodies, beneficiaries and the general public ever since Forest Right Act (FRA) 2006 came into being. Latest is the false card of ‘Risk to the Jumbo’ because of the Bamboo ownership right given to the tribal communities. Such presumptions, largely hypothetical, only speak how the good intentions of FRA are being undermined. When one looks into the whole gamut of this unnecessary controversy, it can be seen how badly the idea has been conceived against the right of tribal people. Their right over Minor Forest produce (MFP) deserves to be recognized as vested upon them under the constitution, various laws and Acts like PESA and FRA.

Most tribal communities in any case depend upon this resource called Bamboo “the giant grass” since time immemorial and live in harmony with nature inside forest by nurturing and protecting it. Bamboo is well recognized as minor forest produce under the Forest laws and such MFP is meant for tribal people to the extent of their requirement and they have the first right to collect, use and dispose the same. Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India had written to all the State Government on 22/03/2011 to empower the tribal communities by vesting with them the complete right on Bamboo as an MFP item and again followed up on 18/08/2012 with the State Governments citing the benefit accrued to a village called “Mendha Lekha” of Maharashtra only by virtue of their right on Bamboo. The village earned Rs.67,09,845 over a period of one year and in turn created huge employment. This, as cited in the success story, has also helped Maharashtra State Government in controlling unlawful activities in the forests since the villagers got productive employment and the Gram Sabha, also, reaped rich dividends out of such community right given under FRA.

Hence, to presume that such right to tribal will destroy Bamboo resources and in turn the Jumbos (Elephants) will suffer is totally unfounded and misleading. On the other hand, it will act as a booster doze to the villagers who will strive hard to protect Bamboo resources that largely meet their livelihood requirement. The Forest Department and other development Agencies should also take up the job of Bamboo resource creation by planting Bamboo in the vacant space with help of ‘National Bamboo Mission’ (NBM) and the State supported Odisha Bamboo Development Agency (OBDA). This would not only increase the Bamboo coverage which in turn would help the JUMBOS in the wild by offering them with enough opportunities for food and shelter. But, unfortunately, both NBM and OBDA fail to achieve their objective because of the failure of administration in implementing Acts like PESA and FRA.

‘Bamboo’ in fact is a wonder grass and the fastest growing plant species which grows on an average of 6 – 8 inches in 24 hours and can attain its total height of 30 -40 feet in 40 to 50 days. The Bamboo propagation is also most convenient and can be grown by its underground rhizome, by cutting of the Culm at nodes, by layering and also by seeds. The underground rhizome throws open a new shoots every year from below the ground. This wonderful creation of Nature can help sustainable production year after year if given its due importance. In the guise of destruction of forest such a resource should not be overlooked and acted upon jealously. Rather it should be propagated so much that there is enough for jumbos, for tribal people, for handicraft, for industry and for all of us as we all need Bamboo at some point of time since birth till death and beyond.

A traditional source of subsistence for many forest dwelling communities of India, Bamboo has got vast economic and cultural significance. It’s also an essential raw material for craftsmen and artisans to run cottage industries and make livelihood independently. Bamboo forests, apart from providing sustenance to poor tribal communities, are an important link for the stability of varying ecosystems while serving wildlife including elephants. Hence, it is all the more imperative to have a proper system for its conservation through empowering the tribal people for sustainable use and management of this important resource called ‘green gold’.

In accordance with the legal and other special provisions, we must respect the rights accrued to the communities under PESA Act, 1996 and the FRA, 2006 and empower the tribal and forest dwelling communities with complete control over MFP including Bamboo. However, it requires the government and administration to be pro-people and sympathetic to the chronic issues of the tribal communities.

[Author is the General secretary of Odisha Forest Majdoor Union. He has also mediated for the release of hostages in two cases of abduction by Maoists in Odisha.]

 
 

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