ROURKELA: The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, which recognises the rights of traditional forest dwellers over forests and its produces, has hindered the growth of the district by stalling several development projects.
While the district administration tried its best to get Gram Sabha nod for the mining proposal of Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) in Lahunipara block, a mining proposal of Mahanadi Coalfield Ltd (MCL) in Hemgir block is also facing Gram Sabha hurdle.
Incidentally, Sundargarh is a scheduled district under Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996 is applicable to it. Citing Gram Sabha to be supreme authority under PESA Act, members of Sundargarh Zilla Adivasi Mulvasi Bachao Manch have stalled several development projects in and around Rourkela city.
While FRA provisions are proving counter-productive for even public sector projects, marginal tribals and other communities, who are not capable of taking judicious decisions, allow themselves to dance to the tunes of anti-development groups.
Recently, members of Atkosia Adivasi Ekta Manch (AAEM), led by president Nilima Topno, staked their claims on forest land in Kinjirkela gram panchayat of Balishankara block declaring that no Government or private projects would be allowed without consent of Gram Sabha.
Sources said in recent times, chorus of voices are getting shrilled to press for individual and community forest rights of marginal and tribal communities in the tribal-dominated Sundargarh district with demands to hand over management of forest and forest land to respective Forest Rights Committees (FRCs).
Secretary of Centre for Integrated Rural and Tribal Development (CIRTD), an NGO working on FRA, Suru Mishra said FRCs have been formed in 1,668 villages of the total 1,723 villages in the district, but no progress has been made towards granting forest rights to them.
Under FRA, FRC, a technical sub-committee of Gram Sabha, identifies boundaries of revenue villages, forest hamlets, forest land and forest resources. After approval from respective Gram Sabhas, the District Level Committee (DLC), led by the Collector, has to recognise forest rights of communities and issue Record of Rights (RoR). It ensures community ownership of forest land for management, conservation and regeneration of forest and allows community members to use Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs) for their livelihood.
Sundargarh Collector Bhupendra Singh Poonia said grant of individual forest rights is nearing completion while massive process started for recognition of community forest rights.