Forest Rights Act: Odisha leads the way with a separate FRA budget, and updation of land records
Odisha is the first state in the country to allocate an exclusive budget for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Additionally, Nayagarh is the first district across India to include the community forest rights in the state’s revenue records.
Aishwarya Tripathi 2 March 2023 2:43 PM GMT
Odisha has become the first state in the country to allocate an exclusive budget for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. In its Budget 2023-24 it has set aside Rs 2,600 lakh for the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act or FRA.
This central Act recognises the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.
The eastern state had been implementing the 2006 Act through a central grant received under Article 275(1). A total of Rs 2326.77 lakh were spent by the Odisha government from financial year 2008-09 to 2022-23. This year, the state didn’t receive the grant, and has dedicated a separate budget to show the commitment towards the inhabiting tribal communities — accounting for 22.85 per cent of the total population of the state.
In another landmark move, Nayagarh in Odisha has become the first district in the country (total 766 districts in India), to register the community rights and titles disbursed under FRA in its revenue land records.
“To carry out any land diversion for non-forest activities, the first step is to check the revenue and forest records to verify the ownership of the land. In case the maps and new demarcations are not updated in government records, there is a conflict between the community and the revenue or forest department,” explained Y Giri Rao, Executive Director of Vasundhara — Odisha-based Action Research & Policy Advocacy Organisation, which is at the forefront to facilitate FRA implementation in the state.
Various research studies show that there are around 300 million forest dwellers in the country, whose livelihoods and survival depend on the forests. But 16 years since this landmark Act was brought in, millions of tribals and forest dwellers have not formally received their claims on the forest lands. And forest related conflicts are rising. Odisha is making some promising changes at the state-level to show its commitment for better FRA implementation.
What does FRA say?
Under the 2006 Act, the forest dwelling communities are entitled to two types of rights — the individual right of self-cultivation and habitation of forest land and community forest rights (CFR). Community Rights are a broad set of rights, under which the gram sabhas can manage, collect and sell minor forest produce like tendu patta and honey.
Under Section 3(1)(i), the Community Forest Resource Rights (CFRR) recognise not just forest communities’ rights to access and use forest produce, but also their “rights to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.”
Once CFRR is recognised for a community, the ownership of the forest passes into the hands of the gram sabha, instead of the forest department. In case of a revenue village, the ownership is passed on from the revenue department.
Without the consent of gram sabha, the forest cannot be diverted for any activities, including compensatory afforestation.
Further, upon completion of the process of settlement of rights and issue of titles, the Act makes it mandatory for the revenue and forest departments to prepare a final map of the revenue forest area and reserved forest area respectively, and incorporate it in the government records.
This must be done within the “specified period of record updation under the relevant state laws or within a period of three months, whichever is earlier.”
Rao from Vasundhara said that the law mandates the SDLC — sub-divisional level committee which is a link between the gram sabha and district-level committee for FRA claim approvals — “to prepare the first draft of new maps and boundaries, considering the land ownership granted to communities under FRA titles.”
“The first draft is submitted to the district level committee — whose decision is “final and binding” — which must direct the District Collector to append the revenue records and the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) to update the forest records,” Rao told Gaon Connection.
Dumdumapalli — a hamlet under Sikrida Gram Panchayat of Nuagaon tehsil — received the community resource rights title on January 9 last year.
The village has a population of only 34, out of which 33 inhabitants belong to the Scheduled Tribe (ST). The title received encompasses an area of 80.43 acres of forest land — out of which 18.1 acres is Revenue Forest and 62.33 acres is Reserved Forest.
The rights were incorporated in the revenue records after Hemanata Kumar Nayak, got posted as tehsildar of Nuagaon in October last year. The forest department is yet to append their records.
“We have to ensure that the boundaries are correctly demarcated with ground inspection. We are in touch with the forest department and Divisional Forest Officer — Ksheyama Sarangi — and they too will update the forest records soon,” Nayak told Gaon Connection.
Nayak recounted Vasundhara’s active involvement and awareness work which pushed the process. Out of 12 community rights titles, Nayak has appended three in the revenue records, including Dumdumapalli, and is working to expedite the process for the remaining.
As per the report titled FRA Factsheet of Odisha, the state government distributed 3,428 CFRR titles between January 2022 and November 2022, with zero Record of Rights created. Record of Rights or ROR is a legal document that gives details about a land and its ownership. The document is maintained by the state’s revenue department.
Nayagarh is the only district in the country to issue 24 CR and CFRR titles to the villages inhabited by Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD), out of total 76 titles.
Furthermore, it issued six joint titles to 16 gram sabhas under FRA, 2006.
Digitisation of the process
Odisha government has digitised the process to make the record-keeping easy and absolute.
Upon receiving the copies of FRA titles and new sketch of the map from the district-level committee, the tehsildar shall update the documents on Land Record Management System — a digital portal for record keeping. A certified copy of land record and updated map sketch is also to be handed over to the concerned gram sabha.
The revenue forests are to be GPS surveyed by ST & SC Development and Revenue Department officials using ‘Odisha Forest Rights: Mobile GPS Survey’ application.
This is then incorporated in the Bhulekha/Bhunaksa portal by the Revenue and Disaster Management Department.
The e-governance portals — Bhulekha is to update the land ownership documents and Bhunaksa is to record updated village maps.
“This leading move by Dumdumapalli would help expedite the process for other villages too and be replicated,” Rao, Executive Director of Vaundhara, told Gaon Connection.
“One has to understand that it is not just about rights but also the responsibility of managing and conserving the forest land by the communities,” he added.
For millions of tribal and forest dwelling families, conflicts around access to forest and forest resources is an everyday reality in the country. For instance, a scuffle arose between the forest department and the gram sabhas — which received the community resource rights titles on January 8 last year — under Daspalla Block of Nayagarh district. A grievance petition was filed on January 4 by the title holders alleging illegal cutting of trees from the Community Forest Resource areas without their consent.
It is to deter such conflicts, that the updation of government land records with new maps and freshly demarcated boundaries becomes more so necessary. These records establish the ownership of the forest land in a transparent manner.
Furthermore, such records ensure that forest dwellers can access other government schemes dependent on land ownership documents such as PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna.