Gram Sabha level committees formed in Chhattisgarh’s Abujmarh

The move is the start of the process to grant habitat rights under the Forest Rights Act to the Abujh Mariyas

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 27 June 2019
Photo: New Peace Process, Chhattisgarh
Photo: New Peace Process, Chhattisgarh Photo: New Peace Process, Chhattisgarh

Gram Sabha Level Committees (GSLC) have been formed in 10 villages of Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district by the state government. The move has been taken to grant habitat rights to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), Abujh Marias, under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.

The process of filing claims under FRA can take place only at the GSLC.

The creation of GSLC in all the villages falling under the 36 gram panchayts of the area (the Abujmarh forest) was supposed to have taken place by June 25, according to a circular from Narayanpur’s district collector. However, the process has been delayed.

“The entire area of Abujmarh is un-surveyed and is sensitive area too. We have started the process by forming GSLCs. This has been done in 10 villages and has to be done in around 90 more villages,” said KS Masrasm, assistant commissioner at Narayanpur’s Tribal Development Department (TDD).

Narayanpur is one of the 14 districts of Chhattisgarh affected by left-wing extremism, according to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The Abujmarh forest has long been notorious as a stronghold of Maoists.

The habitat rights were discussed at a consultation meeting organised by the TDD with members of the community on June 23, 2019.

“People here want habitat rights,” Naresh Biswas, a tribal activist who was involved with the granting of habitat rights to the Baiga tribal community in Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori district in 2016, told Down To Earth.

“There was a process started some five months back where the district administration wanted to give the people revenue titles. But the people refused. The rights as granted under habitat rights of FRA are congruous to the traditional rights which the Abujh Marias exercise in this area,” Biswas added.

There are around 230 unsurveyed villages in the Abujmarh forest. 

In a meeting in Bastar on May 30, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had expressed concern about the non-implementation of FRA in the area and had subsequently announced that habitat rights would be given to the PVTG community in the forest. 

However, the problem in granting habitat rights in Abujmarh is that the area is inaccessible due to the nature of the terrain, lack of roads and the presence of Maoists.

“What the government can do is hold a joint Gram Sabha of these villages in Abujmarh. Habitat rights are not like individual or community rights under FRA, which can be done based on what a Gram Sabha says. Here, the right will be conferred on an area that includes many villages. So, it'll be better to hold a joint Gram Sabha level committee,” said Biswas.           

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