Red tape binds law

Maharashtra villagers don’t even get forms to file forest claims  

By Rajil Menon
Published: Thursday 15 July 2010

imageTHOUGH three years have passed since the Forest Rights Act came into force, most villages in Maharashtra are still fighting for rights to manage their forests under the law.

Over 100 villagers and activists from different districts of Maharashtra who gathered in Pune on June 12 said bureaucracy is obstructing them from claiming their rights. They were deposing before a three-member panel of the Central government. The panelists are a part of the 19-member national committee set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and the tribal affairs ministry to study factors that are aiding or impeding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006. The panel will also define the role of the forest department vis a vis the gram sabhas in forest conservation and management.

The public meeting in Pune was the second in a series of consultations being held across the country. “Through this meeting we want to document both the best and worst practices in Maharashtra,” said A K Jha, a panel member and director of the Tribal Research and Training Institute in Pune.

Two tribal villages, Mendha Lekha and Marda, in Gadchiroli district are exceptional cases where community initiative led to grant of forest rights (see ‘Two tribal villages get 2,349 hectares’, Down To Earth, September 15, 2009). People of Ghati village in Kurkheda taluka of Gadchiroli said they got only partial rights and still have to take the forest department’s permission for managing forest resources. Roop chand Dhakne of non-profit Gram Arogya said the government first re jected Ghati’s claim. When the villagers went on hunger strike the district collector gave them forest rights, with conditions.

“We were given 521.31 hectares (ha) against 913.13 ha caimed,” said Dhakne. Activists alleged that the state government was tweaking FRA. For instance, section 3 I (i) of the FRA grants community rights to protect and manage forests. But this section has been omitted in the forms in some areas.

Kishor Bhor of Bhimashankar village in Pune complained that forms for filing claims were not available in 15-20 villages in the hilly area. Ashish Kothari of the non-profit Kalpvriksha and member of the national panel admitted people have to struggle to get forms to file claims. “Some st ates have added four pages to the form, demanding signatures of forest officials and head of the gram panchayat. This is against the spirit of FRA,” he said. Similar meetings are scheduled in Orissa, Jharkhand and other states over the next two months.

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