Forest rights are still far off for tribal communities

A slew of problems prevent effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006

August 22, 2022 12:09 am | Updated 12:28 am IST - CHENNAI

Tribal communities and traditional forestdwellers are still fighting for individual and community rights to forest land and resources, which the Forest Rights Act recognised about 15 years ago. A slew of issues are affecting the effective implementation of the 2006 Act across Tamil Nadu.

K. Padmini, a leader of the Kadar community at Erumaiparai in Coimbatore district, said, “Though we are entitled to the rights of land to the extent we had used before 2005, we are being granted only a mere 1.5 cent each, though we were in possession of much more. Mechanically, 1.5 cent is granted to all those applying.”

At some villages in Theni district, some individuals belonging to tribal communities have been working for the government as anganwadi workers or cleanliness workers. They have been denied individual rights on the ground that they are government servants, said activist S. Thanaraj, who is the State coordinator of Ekta Parishad. “There is no rule that prevents the government from allowing rights to them.”

In areas closer to tiger reserves, the grant of community rights is a major issue, said S. Mohan Kumar, Erode district convener of Tamil Nadu Pazhangudi Makkal Sangam. “Officials say animals need gooseberries more than us. Our livelihood is affected. We are not even allowed to collect the grass [used in brooms] beyond a limit. Though we are entitled to over 40 minor forest products, there are many restrictions.”

In many habitations near forest areas, “traditional gram sabhas” (different from those under the panchayati raj) are yet to be constituted. They are mandatory for constituting forest rights committees. “At many places in Madurai district, sub-divisional committees and district committees are not meeting regularly,” Mr. Thanaraj alleged.

Unless the land for which they were granted forest rights was converted into revenue villages, beneficiaries would not be able to even level the land, he reasoned.

When contacted, a senior official told The Hindu that no rule denied the forest rights of people working for the government. “As for 1.5 cent, there were some complaints from Thali in Tiruppur district. Officials have been instructed to look into them.”

As for complaints of inactive sub-divisional committees, he said a meeting would take place in a few weeks. “We are planning two training meetings for RDOs, forest rangers and others. One meeting is for the Tiruchi region and the other for the Coimbatore region.” A meeting of forest activists was held earlier this year, he said.

As of August this year, over 9,800 individual and 470 community rights have been granted in 17 districts across Tamil Nadu.

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