THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In what could be termed as a speedy implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), Thrissur District-Level Committee of FRA has vested all 52 tribal settlements in Vazhachal area with title rights.
The decision, taken in October, recognises them as gramasabhas based on Forest Rights Act with the constitutional power to make important decisions for the community, as per a report presented at a workshop on ‘Forest Rights Act and Community Forest Rights as well as post-FRA governance in Kerala’ held here.
Forest Rights Act is envisioned as an Act which gives a tribal settlement the right to the forest land they live in, the right to use, conserve and manage forest resources as well as the right to use forest land for developmental activities. Though FRA 2006 had come into effect, officials, because of ignorance, have often interpreted it as an Act which grants ownership of land to tribal individuals. This is but one of the individual rights listed in FRA. One of the community forest rights is the right of a settlement as a whole to own land, and for them to decide where the individual houses should be. Community forest resources right is the right for them on the forest resources of a place. By vesting title rights to Vazhachal settlements, the District-Level Committee now recognises their community forest rights.
The tribal gramasabhas in Vazhachal can now take a decision about introducing a developmental facility like school in the forest, and get sanction for the same from a Divisional Forest Officer.
Earlier, any activity in the forest called for approvals from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The workshop was held at Centre for Environment and Development here on November 4 and 5.
The workshop was organised by Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation and Centre for Environment and Development. The two organisations have been studying the difficulties in implementing the FRA, in a project funded by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.
One of the issues that they faced was in the mapping of tribal communities. The geographical area used by a community would overlap with that of another. The habitat of Kadar community, who collect honey and other forest produce, is bigger than that of Malayar, who collect only firewood. Since their habitats overlap, the geographical boundaries defining each gramasabha also had to overlap. The research organisations used GIS mapping to define the areas for each community.
At the workshop, officials from forest and scheduled tribe department, academics and NGO activists discussed about the implementation of forest rights across the state.