Concern over Neglect of FRA by Political Parties
The elections may have been over in Odisha but commitment of major political parties to implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA), which plays a significant role in ensuring entitlement and livelihood of forest dwellers, worries tribal rights groups in the State.
For, none of the mainstream political parties has made any effort to address the issue of community forest rights in their election manifestos. Community forest rights and rights over community forest resources are burning issues in the tribal areas because of mining and industrial projects. Diversion of forest land for such projects can be possible when individual and community forest rights are settled with consent from gram sabhas but this issue has not been taken up seriously by any political party, the activists say.
In Odisha, 3,25,449 individual and 3,131 community claims were settled for 5,14,886 acre and 1,51,164 acre forest land respectively by January.
In its manifesto, the Biju Janata Dal has taken credit for Odisha being No 1 in FRA implementation in the country. In reality, the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD) says the ruling party has implemented the Act as a land distribution scheme spoiling the very spirit of the legislation.
Besides, the party’s promise to implement “Ama Jungle Yojana” covering all Vana Surakhya Samitis (VSS) has also been criticised as unconstitutional and contradictory to FRA. The scheme would come in conflict with the community forest rights and the promise was a poll plank to get votes from the VSS which exposes the real intention of the party, the CSD says.
The forest rights activists say other parties such as Congress only talk of stringent implementation of FRA in its manifesto and assure to protect the traditional rights of forest dwellers while CPM does not event mention the Act though it promises expedited issue of patta to STs and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs).
Similarly, in its manifesto, the CPI (ML) makes a promise to eliminate the hurdles in proper implementation of FRA whereas Aam Aadmi Party says grama sabhas would be empowered to manage rights over forest produce and forest will be reserved in adivasi and dalit areas without even mentioning of FRA.
The Bharatiya Janata Party lays stress on forest protection and regeneration through social forestry programmes.
The activists also criticise the BJD’s promise to extend deregulation of Kendu leaf to all the districts if its experiment in Nabarangpur and Malkangiri districts works. It is a conspiracy to keep the Kendu leaf business under Forest Department’s control, they say.