The State Government on Thursday sought approval of the Centre for community rights over the forest managed by the Vana Surakhsya Samitis (VSS). As the guidelines of the joint forest management are not compatible with the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the VSS numbering more than 11,000 have become ineffective.
Rejecting the Centre’s accusation that the State Government has been denying bamboo harvesting rights to tribals under provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said: “It may not be out of place to mention here that Odisha is also a pioneer in transferring collection and disposal rights of 69 MFP items to the Gram Sabha much before the FRA, 2006, was promulgated.”
Union Tribal Affairs Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo had written to the Chief Minister on May 24 suggesting that the State Government allows tribals the rights to cut bamboos. He was referring to an instance in Kalahandi district where Forest Department officials denied transit permission to a tribal village to transport bamboo after harvesting it from the forest even though they were entitled to do so under the FRA.
Moreover, the village community had also been given rights over the bamboo growing in their adjoining assigned areas as per provisions of the Joint Forest Management besides being entrusted with the responsibility of protection and conservation of such forest, the CM’s letter to Deo said.
“In fact, ST & SC Development Department of my State has already sought clarification from your Ministry seeking approval of draft guidelines duly vetted by State-level Monitoring Committee for facilitating harmonisation of FRA with the provisions of Joint Forest Management. The said approval may kindly be communicated early,” the Chief Minister said.
Claiming that the State Government has implemented the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, in letter and spirit, the Chief Minister said Odisha tops in terms of distribution of title deeds to the landless tribals.
As of June 2012, a total 3,14,719 titles were approved covering an area of 5,10,572 acres of forest land. Similarly, under Community Rights, 929 claims had been approved covering 75,613 acres, he said.
He further claimed that Odisha topped the states affected by Left wing extremism (LWE) in terms of the lowest percentage of rejection against the total number of claims received by the gram sabhas.