District Sarguja, Chattisgarh
Dec 2-4, 2013
Organised by PACS
Summary observations by Ambrish Mehta and Barun Mitra
Participants from about a dozen districts attended the workshop organised by PACS and its partner organisations in Chattisgarh. Over thirty people, mostly from civil society activists and community leaders participated in this three day workshop.
PACS invited Ambrish Mehta of ARCH, Gujarat and Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, New Delhi to participate in this workshop, and provide inputs on the use of GPS technology in mapping and documenting claims for forest rights. Based on the discussions at workshop, and the field visit to Jajga village about 40 km south of Ambikapur, here are some key take away points from this workshop.
- Chattisgarh has a relatively high number of claims filed by people (over 7.5 lakhs), and the government too has approved high number of such claims (over 3 lakhs). But the overall rate of rejection is greater more than 50 percent. Also there is a widespread complaint that much less area has been approved than that is actually cultivated by the families.
- There is one more issue that seems to be peculiar to Chattisgarh (and also may be MP). The state government seems to have given titles under FRA, mostly for those lands that are falling in the so called ‘Orange Areas’. These are the lands over which Nistrar rights of the local villagers were already recognized earlier and the lands were kept out of the forest compartments and transferred to the Revenue department. But there was ongoing dispute between the Forest and the Revenue departments with regard to the control of these lands. Claims for such disputed lands and Nistar rights can also be recognized under FRA, but this should not be done under section 3(1)(a), but under Sections 3(1) (f) or 3(1)(b). But it seems that no such thing has been done and all these claims have been recognized under section 3(1)(a) only.
- Most of the claims approved are for individual rights only and virtually no Community Forest Rights have been recognized so far in Chhatisgarh. The approval of Community Forest Rights of about 28 villages in Sarguja district, was the first instance in which CFRs are recognized. This was largely due to the initiative of Collector and civil society organizations. But in this case too the right to manage the forest areas as Community Forest Resources has not been recognized. Only the rights over MFPs and grazing rights have been recongized.
- Another problem in Chattisgarh seems to be that the State Government has, in violation of the Act and the Rules, apporinted Panchayat Secretaries (‘Patwaris’) as secretaries of the Forest Rights Committee (FRC). As a result all the FRCs are effectively under the control of Patwaris and represent their will and opinion and not that of Gramsabhas. Even the proceedings of the Gramsabhas are also controlled by them only. This has led to a situation where most of the claims have been rejected at the Gramsabha level only and not SDLC or DLC levels. This means that communities and civil society organisations would need to work hard to challenge such appointments and make FRCs truly representative of the will of the Gramsabhas.
- At the training, the Civil Society representatives and the community leaders could easily grasp the essence of using GPS, and how it could be used to measure and map lands – of both individual and community claims. Further, they also understood how super-imposing these plots on Satellite Imageries (from Google or NRSC) of 2005 shows the situation of the lands in 2005 and thus can help substantiate the claims. They further learnt that in case of CFRs (with large areas) it is also possible to plot and map the areas directly on Google Earth with the help of community leaders. The hands on training in actually using GPS devices to plot boundaries and calculating areas on the fields was was quite effective in building confidence of the participants and community leaders.
- Procurement of a few GPS by PACS, really helped in the the training process. Also, triggered an interest among more technologically inclined members of the network, to explore and learn basics of using GIS software to process the data.
- It should be possible for community leaders, and FRC members, to use the GPS, in a few of the villages, to map the CFR and individual claims. The data could be processed locally or by us in Delhi. And we would be happy to make our www.fra.righttoproperty.org platform available to process the data and generate relevant maps and reports, if PACS and the local partners would like to make use of it.
- Once a few communities adopt the GPS based methodology, and people get an opportunity to become familiar with the process, they will develop the confidence and the competence to undertake the effort to implement the FRA in a vigorous way. And then the demand from other communities may grow quite rapidly.
- Building on FRA, there is a distinct prospect of building an active civic engagement at the grassroots level, which may help lay the foundation for a real social transformation from the bottom.
Comments and suggestions are most welcome.