Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Forests melancholy

Never ending legend.
            Long time back a conversation with my tribal friend Vasanth about forest land made me perplexed. The question was that “we measure our land that is cultivated in terms of its yield and the Forest department allocates the land in terms of cents, acres etc. which we do not understand and measure the forest in that way, so can the issue be resolved?” the remedy for the historical mistake is finding its way in Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA). But the varied perceptions of the administration are making the situation more and more complex and further alienating the tribals. Basically the Forest conservation Act premise is that 33% of land area should be under forest cover (Indian Forest Policy, 1952) which will be under threat due to this Act and for this reason the delay took place in implementation. Revenue Department, Forest Department in the country hold maximum land and the tussle between these departments is existing from their inception stage and which will not be resolved. And in between them comes Tribal welfare Department in the implementation of the Act.
 Convergence rarely found in enacting the law is leading to a state of confusion and ambiguity. Surveys and resurveys have become a perennial task because of the perceptional differences. The Act states rights for the people in three different modes, individual pattas on land which is cultivated by individual families. Community pattas, on land which is commonly used by the entire community and for other forest dependents like grazers, non timber forest produce collectors etc. in reality  ACT never entails rights to the communities these are only privileges and concessions. And all the rights reside with forest department strengthening the erstwhile Acts.
When we look into the times of yore reasons for creation of laws reveals the accession of rights from the tribals. The 1855 , first forest policy monopolized the timber species as state property which was furthered by the 1865 Forest Act in controlling the forests, In 1866 forest department was formed. In1876 traditional rights of tribals were taken over by the state. 1894 Act strengthened the claws of the colonials and in the name of public purpose tribals where thrown out to the fringes and became aliens within their domains. In Post independence era they were portrayed as encroachers. The 1952 national forest policy in the post independence followed the footsteps of erstwhile. Voluntary settlement and reclamation of podu lands is beneath this policy.1980 forest conversation Act stated non conversion of forest lands to any other purpose.1972 wildlife conversation Act promulgated ban on hunting and squashing the spirit of tribal culture who are surviving on hunting and food gathering. Carrying of implements like bow and arrow are projected as offence. 1988 national forest policy came with a motive of communities’ participation in forest management. Respective states have drawn some provisions and concessions for the tribals over timber and Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), which seldom saw the light even after two decades.

 Indigenous management
 Shifting or Podu cultivation is watershed in human civilization by domesticating land for food production and a shift from previous mode of living which still exists in many parts of the world. The shifting cultivation or podu was done in two ways, on the hill top and plains which is termed as konda (hill) podu and Chelaka (plain) podu. The culture of the tribals revolve around the hill cultivation .Both the forms of cultivation involve community participation. Presently the practice of shifting has declined due to various factors and these forms of cultivation have become almost permanent forms but the culture and traditions woven around them still prevail. In hill cultivation organic methods are adopted. Forests were never considered as an individual property by the Tribals’ and utilization of forests was ecologically complimentary and symbiotic.  The management practice created space for individuals, groups who are dependent on fuel, fodder, NTFP etc and community utilization. Which was an integral part of the management, the dissection started with sectoral departmental management and created conflicts among the communities which still prevail in different forms for accession over the domains. The dissection continues in the FRA which dismantled the existing social fabric.  
The cliché of development

The conflicts between different stake holders (user groups) of the forest emerge due to rights, accession over the resources.  These are historically evident and surfaced during Joint forest and community forest management period due to categorizing and specifying the rights to specific villagers and denying the accession to other dependents. The accession, rights on forest resources were created based on economic and social strata of the community, strengthening the social stratification. And even to this date breaking this discrimination is a major tussle. Rather solving the course FRA furthering it in terms of bifurcating through the stratification of users. The decision of identification of these users was laid in the hands of gram sabha but the Forest Department has formed the Forest committees at Panchayat level in Andhra Pradesh (A.P). The Panchayat Raj extended to Schedule areas (PESA) were not found in spirit and action at the ground level. Hence the power of identification still relies in the hands of the department and it successfully identified the people and even issued the entitlements. Which were not to the expectations of the community. Large chunk of villagers haven’t got the benefits. Muvalla Muttaiah from kodu tribe of Bondaanguda of Padmapuram Panchayat, Araku mandal of Vishakhapatnam dist says that “we are aware of the Act and aspiring to get the rights for peaceful living and awaiting for it”. Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GOI. (31-10-2010), reports that Andhra Pradesh state that total claims received were 3, 29,858. 3, 22,955 Individual and 6,903 community claims. Total area -14, 44,049(acres) and distributed 1, 67,582 including 1, 65,482-Individual and community-2,100. Majority of entitlements were given to women and many villagers are waiting for the entitlements.  But to dismay in the areas of wild life protected areas, potential mining zones, construction of dams’ areas the entitlements are denied. And without the implementation of FRA the projects are cleared.
A.P. Tribal welfare dept. report states that except in Vishakhapatnam the distribution is accomplished, analysis of villages of Marripalem, Maddulabandi, Iridapalli, Karakaput and D.Gonduru of Paderu mandal of Vishakhapatnam dist state that 107 claims are disbursed and 106 are women. The worst victims of resource degradation are women and they are first ones in forest conservation igniting from mundane activities from household chore to the global strata. And after years of struggle the forest lands are in the hands of women but development is curtailed due to lack of spirit. Sanamma of Kothragondi of Araku area of Vishakhapatnam states that “women are more capable than men and manage household responsibility and the resource” and hopes to get the entitlement and wishes development of the land The future course of this act has dyadic dimension, individual land and  community forest development inclusive of taking in consideration of other forest dwellers interests.
The melancholy of forests comes to an end only with a perceptional change in the management systems, which requires an amalgamation of traditional and modern systems of management and niches landmark in forest conservation with women’s headship. This sews a sea change in socio, economic and political fabric of society.
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