General Elections 2019

Forest Rights Act could play decisive role in LS polls: Report

One-fourth of constituencies in mainland India have FRA implementation as a core issue and can influence winning margins, finds a study

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 01 April 2019

Implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006, (FRA) can play a decisive role in one-fourth of Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general elections, says a study conducted by Community Forest Resource-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA), a network of non-profits.

According to the report, of 517 constituencies in mainland India (excluding northeast, Jammu & Kashmir, Andaman & Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep), 133 “have FRA as a core issue, which can significantly influence winning margins”. In another 124 constituencies, 10-20 per cent of voters hold forest rights.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won in 79 of these 133 core FRA constituencies and Congress triumphed in just five. But, it stood second in 83 of them. Other parties won 49 such seats.

“Congress, which enacted FRA, has done miserably in these core constituencies. And, on 68 of them, Congress and BJP fought directly against each other, but Congress won only three. It’s safe to say these 68 constituencies can be decisive in influencing next government formation,” reads the study.

Of these 68 decisive constituencies, 16 are in Madhya Pradesh, 11 in Rajasthan, eight each in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, seven each in Gujarat and Karnataka, four each in Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand and three in Uttarakhand.

Since in most states FRA remains very poorly implemented owing to lack of political will and extreme opposition by forest bureaucracy, the incumbent BJP didn’t come back to power in four of the above mentioned states in 2018.

“The ability to leverage proper implementation of FRA becomes extremely crucial. In Chhattisgarh, during assembly elections, the INC had made poor implementation of FRA as a key issue and this was an important factor in its resounding success,” notes the study.

Since FRA was a small part of the Congress’ manifesto in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it affected their margin of victory, finds the study.

“Except Maharashtra and to some extent Gujarat, FRA implementation in BJP ruled states such as Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh has been shoddy and aimed to subvert the intent of the law. This likely would extract a major price from the current dispensation in the forested constituencies,” it adds.

The CFR-LA also lists nine suggestions that political parties should commit to, to better their chances in the elections. Few of them are strengthening the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to allow it to undertake FRA implementation on mission mode, PMO monitoring the FRA regularly and withdraw cases against tribals and forest dwellers with recognised forest rights.

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