Maharashtra is the first to recognize their rights over forests
two villages in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra have become the first in the country to win community rights over
forests under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. On August 15, Ramesh Bang, the state
food and civil supplies minister, said the claims of Mendha Lekha and Marda villages over their village forests were accepted by the state
The village communities are yet to receive copies of the government order giving them ownership rights but they have started preparations to
take over the management of the forests. Mendha Lekha would get management rights over 1,832 hectares (ha) and Marda would get rights over
517 ha of forestland.
Devaji Tofa, community leader of village Mendha Lekha, said the gram sabha has been managing the village's forest resources till now
but "this is through a tacit arrangement with the forest department. For this reason we have not been able to take long term decisions." He said
the village would now be able to take decisions on water harvesting structures like check dams in the forest, managing collection of minor forest
produce like bamboo and plan sustainable income-generation projects. He said since August 20 the village gram sabha has been
holding meetings to constitute different committees for water management, minor forest produce and grazing. "All committees will have 50 per
cent women," Tofa said.
Mohan Hirabhai Hiralal of non-profit Vrikshamitra said the government decision would de-escalate the power struggle between the forest
department and village communities. He said legal recognition of forest rights is crucial to the tribal communities here as only 13 per cent land is
agricultural. The villagers therefore depend heavily on forest resources for income.
In a related development forest dwellers of Orissa have been granted conditional title to forestlands. The Orissa High Court vacated its interim
stay on distribution of titles or pattas on August 12.
Earlier in July 2008, the high court had stayed issuing titles on a petition by the state's retired forest officials who want the forest rights act to be
scrapped as it contravenes existing forest laws. The act would encourage deforestation, they said. The court vacated its stay after non-profits
working with tribal people told the court there is growing unrest in areas of Koraput due to delay in recognizing claims of tribal people. They cited
an order of the Andhra Pradesh high court that vacated a similar stay on issuing titles in May 2009.