The Union government will press the state governments to give tribals a bigger role in the management of forests and forest resources by linking the allocation of central forest management funds to tribal participation.
Alienation of tribals from decision-making has been cited among the reasons for Maoist influence among them. Many have suggested that expanding tribal participation in the use of local resources, through Panchayati Raj bodies, will counter Maoist influence.
Panchayati Raj Minister C.P. Joshi and his Environment and Forests counterpart Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday agreed that the Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMC) should transferred from the control of forest officials to body of villagers — gram sabhas or gram panchayats — in tribal areas. Forest officials are often accused of harassing of tribals, who rely on forest resources for a living.
However, the implementation of the new decision may not be easy, government officials say. The centre is not invoking
special provisions that give it overriding powers in tribal areas.
“Before releasing money for JFMC we will see whether the states are involving PR bodies in implementing forestry management and conservation plans. If they are not, the funds would not be released,” a government functionary said. The Ministry of Environment and Forests gives Rs 1,000 crore to the state government under the JFMC scheme every year.
“The initiative will be implemented in accordance with the provisions of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) law,” said Joshi. The law provides of participation of villagers in local planning in tribal districts of nine states, which are now Naxal-affected.
“It is a step in ensuring participation of tribals in the development process,” said former panchayati raj minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who also wanted total implementation of PESA Act to curb influence of Maoists in tribal areas. “It will provide sense of ownership to locals in the development.”