Chhattisgarh govt makes forest department as nodal agency for forest rights, activists describe move as ‘illegal’

Hindustan Times, Raipur | ByRitesh Mishra | Edited by Sparshita Saxena
May 31, 2020 02:35 PM IST

A press release issued by the Chhattisgarh government on Saturday stated that the Forest Department has been made the nodal agency for the matter of community forest resource rights in the state.

After Chhattisgarh government made the forest department the nodal agency for Community Forest Resource Rights (CFRR) - under the Scheduled Tribes and the Traditional Forest Dwellers Act 2006 - state activists alleged that the step is ‘illegal’. Activists have said that as per the Act, only the Tribal Affairs Department or any other agency authorized by the Central government could be the nodal agency.

File photo: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.(HT Photo)
File photo: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.(HT Photo)

A press release issued by the Chhattisgarh government on Saturday stated that “Community members will be given community forest rights for the conservation of forests, participation of the villagers in the management and proper use of trees via forest dwellers. The entire process for its rapid implementation has been chalked out by the state government. The Forest Department has been made the nodal department for the matter of community forest resource rights.”

The press release further stated that forest minister Mohammad Akbar has said that under the sections of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act 2006, CFRR have been given to Gram Sabha.

It is worth mentioning that as per the Section 11 of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) Act, the Ministry of the Central government dealing with Tribal Affairs or any officer or authority authorized by the Central government in this behalf shall be the nodal agency for the implementation of the provisions of this Act.

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“Most of the implementation has been done by the tribal affairs department. Forest department has been the nodal agency for only community forest resource rights (CFRR) under the Act, said Manoj Pingua, Forest Secretary, Chhattisgarh government.

“Forest department can never be made the nodal agency for any rights mentioned in the Act. The tribal department could be the only nodal agency. This is illegal and not in the act. The preamble to Forest Rights Recognition Act states that this law is being enacted for the recognition of forest rights while correcting the historical injustice done to tribals and other traditional forest dwellers. The forest department has never had a supportive attitude towards this law because it feels that if the forest resource is given into the hands of the community then it will not have control,” said Alok Shuka, an activist working on forest rights in Chhattisgarh.

Shukla further said that the department has created a system to determine the role of the community in forest management, under which the Community Forest Management Committee (CFMC) has been formed in the village but their control is with the Forest Department. The Department wants these committees to be delegated the rights of community forest resources.

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“But this intention is not lawful because the law delegates all rights to the gram sabha which are constitutional and democratic system. With this order of the government, the forest department will be more powerful, so that tribals will get the resources of the forest in the same way as they want. Hundreds of community forest resource claims have been pending in the district level committee since the year 2013, but they are not being recognized only because the forest department does not want to,” Shukla said adding that there are 12 claims pending in his area of work in Korba district, Hasdeo Aranya region, but they are not being recognized.

The government in a press release on Saturday claimed that a committee for community forest resource management will be formed by the Gram Sabhas. This committee will work for the conservation of forests, wildlife and biodiversity in community forest areas. Members of Gram Sabha will be included in this committee. Gram Sabha will have the right to nominate a Joint Forest Management Committee or its members of Gram Sabha. This committee will prepare a management plan in accordance with the work plan of the Forest Department and the Wild Wildlife Management Plan. Based on this management plan, the forest department will do the work of plantation, wood, bamboo wells, forest growing work and wildlife management, etc.

“Forest Department should not be the nodal agency. It is unjustifiable that the agency responsible for eviction, atrocities, dislocation and exploitation of tribals and forest-dwelling communities will be entrusted with the responsibility of giving forest rights. The very preamble of the Forest Right Act 2006 talks about ending the historical injustices meted out to Adivasi. Even the intent of the government would be noble but the outcome of this decision would be devastating as forest department cannot win the trust of tribals and the forest-dependent community as they have been notorious for snatching entitlement and rights in the name of plantation, sanctuaries and forest diversion,” said Vijendra Ajnabi who is a member of Chattisgarh Van Adhikar Manch.

He further said that there is an apprehension that forest department can misuse their influence on joint forest management committee, the sponsored wing of the forest department to take control of forest management from Gram Sabha and deliver the agenda set by the forest department.

“I strongly believe that tribal department should remain the nodal agency for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act as it has been several time mentioned in official communication by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and even in the order delivered by Supreme Court in the Niyamgiri judgement case,” Ajnabi said, adding that the Chhattisgarh government should first ensure to recognise the long-pending community forest rights claim duly submitted by Gram Sabha since 2012-13 across the state.

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