Exercising one’s forest rights by employing GPS technology: New insights gained by tribal communities of the Nilgiris during an exposure trip to Odisha

With women in Madhikol

Report and photos courtesy Shruti Agarwal © 2015 | To view more photos and read the full article, click here >>

Orissa has many success stories where formal recognition of rights, both individual and community, have been done to a great extent. While the process is ongoing, the forest dwelling communities in Orissa have started exercising their traditional rights in the forest without fear of the Forest Department. Tamil Nadu remains the only state in India where not a single title deed for recognition of rights has been issued yet. Despite people’s movements and interventions by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the state machinery has made little effort to implement the Act in the state. Another idea behind organizing the exposure trip was for the adivasis from Gudalur to understand and learn what worked for Orissa and how the best practices from the state could be replicated in Tamil Nadu.

The exposure trip was also a collaboration of kinds between ACCORD and Vasundhara. Action for Community Organization, Rehabilitation and Development (ACCORD) has been working to organize the tribals to assert their rights in the Gudalur valley. Since 2009, the organization has been focusing a lot on the implementation of FRA in the letter and spirit of the Act. Vasundhara on the other hand works on FRA in several districts of Orissa and has infact been instrumental in increasing government stakeholder participation and influencing forest rights related policy in the state. […]

Madhikol is a small village comprising predominantly of the tribal community, Desia Kondhs and also a small population of other traditional forest dwelling community. […]

After a round of introductions, the discussion started. After learning about their success in receiving title deeds, the FRC leaders from Gudalur had many questions. In particular, they were keen to learn the nature of land complexities, if any in the village, the nature of dependence on forest produce, the restrictions from Forest Department, the problems they faced in their struggle to receive formal recognition and their plans post recognition of claims.

The first step towards the implementation of the Act is the constitution of Gram Sabhas. […]

Madhikol, like most other forest dwelling villages depended to a great extent on forest produce for their livelihoods and sustenance. A recent study by a group of researchers revealed that the Kondha depend on over 300 kinds of produce from the forest. It was the time of the year when the collection of tendu leaves was ongoing in full swing. Most houses had tendu leaves neatly placed outside their houses for drying, which would be sold once they were dry. The village could sell tendu leaves only to the forest department, such was the arrangement. Despite the recognition of rights, the villages in Orissa were not free to sell the tendu leaves wherever they got the best rates. […]

The interaction with Madhikol village was very insightful. There were things both groups shared and learnt from each other. It was beautiful to watch the two groups connect with each other, despite the language barrier, differences in their appearances, rituals, customs, etc but united by their worldview. […]

Gudalur FRC leaders and Madhiko village

The Tribal Department started a campaign to spread awareness about FRA provisions to the forest dwellers. Sound and video vans on FRA went from village to village. The Department also started the Tribal Development Cooperative Corporation for collection of forest produce from the forest dwellers. By collecting forest produce, the Corporation also seeks to make people more aware of their right to collect and sell such produce. This has been working quite effectively. In addition, the ITDA is employing unemployed youth from the forest dwelling community and with support from Vasundhara providing them training on use of GPS. ITDA has bought 25 GPS units in Kandhamal which are used by the youth for mapping of CFR boundaries. The youth volunteers receive a stipend from the ITDA as well. The ITDA also ensures that the DLC meetings happen every quarter. It was quite something for the group from Gudalur to see the pro-activeness and support of the Tribal Department in the whole FRA process. In Gudalur, the involvement of the Tribal Department in the FRA process is non-existent.

After the distribution of title deeds, the ITDA also ensured that government schemes were introduced and implemented in villages with title deeds. Several entitlements like providing houses under IAY and electricity, providing for increased land productivity through distribution of fruit saplings have also been undertaken by the ITDA.

Mr.Malik ended on a highly positive note by saying that the government was not giving the forest dwellers something new but only recognizing what is rightfully theirs. A statement of this sort from a government official was very encouraging for the Gudalur group. The group heartily thanked the Officer for his time, information and encouragement. […]

Mapping CFR boundaries in Pandhuli

There were youth from the community also present at the gathering who had been trained by Vasundhara to draw such maps and use GPS devices. Pandhuli village took on the mapping exercise all by themselves with some initial guidance from the Vasundhara team. […]

The trip to Kandhamal has been a valuable learning experience for the entire Gudalur group. Engagement with the Tribal Welfare Department for speedier implementation of FRA has now become a priority for the FRC leaders in Orissa and strategies for the same have been discussed at the follow up meeting of FRC leaders in Gudalur after the Orissa trip. The FRC leaders are now quoting the successful example of FRA implementation in Orissa to the government stakeholders in the Nilgiris in an attempt to increase the accountability of the government. Hopefully these will show positive results sooner than later.

Source: Learning from the Orissa Experience | At the Edge of Existence
Address: https://cultureandconservation.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/learning-from-the-orissa-experience/
Date Visited: Mon Sep 21 2015 20:16:36 GMT+0200 (CEST)