1. Looking beyond the Forest Rights Act: Schemes and programmes already drafted for the tribal people need to be implemented everywhere

  • Page 7/OPED
  • GS 2: Government Policy, GS 1: Society – Tribals

Context: Evaluation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) after its existence for 15 years. Despite the Forest Ministry being the implementing agency, the role of the Forest Department in granting titles is crucial because the lands claimed are under its jurisdiction. 

About Forest Rights Act(FRA)

  1. The Act provides for democratic tenets in the implementation process.
  2. Gram Sabha: FRA requires the constitution of a Forest Rights Committee comprising members from within the village by conducting a Gram Sabha with two-thirds of the members present at the meeting.
    • The contribution of women to the forest economy is well known.
    • The FRA provides for equal rights in titles issued under the Act for women. They have the equitable role at every stage of decision-making.
  3. Evidence of ownership: Satellite imageas an evidence of ownership of titles is allowed. Whereas there can be other types of evidences as well.

Performance of the Act:

  1. Successes:
    • High award rate: As on April 30, 2020, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had received 42,50,602 claims (individual and community), of which titles were distributed to 46% of the applicants.
    • Successful completion of the process: The implementation process of ownership rights is more or less over.
    • The recognition given to their lands under the FRA gave the tribal people a psychological boost.
  2. Criticism:
    • The supporters of tribal rights allege that the Department is overlooking the genuine claims of the tribal people.
    • Regarding Gram Sabha: The process was not followed in many places.  These committees were mostly constituted by the Panchayat Secretaries upon the directives received from District Magistrates at short notice.  The nominations for members for the taluk-level and district-level committees were also not transparent.
    • Regarding women:  On the ground, the women were hardly visible in the Panchayats and ownership of titles.
    • Difficulty in proving claims: It was disappointing that in the initial stages of implementation, there was insistence on satellite images as evidence while other admissible proofs were ignored, as happened in Gujarat.
    • Mass rejection of claims: This resulted in mass rejections of claims by the authorities. It is a different matter that a writ petition filed by the civil society groups in 2011 forced the authorities to look into the matter afresh in the State.
    • Inclusion & exclusion errors. For example, In some villages around Bastar, Chhattisgarh, the plots claimed and the documents confirming the award did not match.
    • Welfare and developmental schemes of the Rural Department were not extended everywhere to the tribal people who received documents of land possession under the FRA despite the directives issued by the Ministry to treat them on a par with others.
    • Poor awareness levels among the tribal people proved to be a handicap, especially in the scheduled areas which are remotely located. To effectively present claims, a fair understanding of the Act and its implementation process is necessary.
    • Involvement of NGOs was missing in some interior areas in States like Chhattisgarh where insurgency was affecting the lives of the people. Evidence suggests that implementation was better in areas which were fairly close to urban settings or where accessibility was easy. In these places, most Central and State government schemes and programmes such as Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, MGNRES, NFSA, National Health Mission; PMAY; and PMGSY were implemented, empowering the people to assert their positions.

Further challenges:

  1. Declining produce, livelihoods: Many tribal areas are witnessing a decline in the quality of forest produce in their vicinity, thus forcing them to look for other sources of livelihood.
  2. Reducing employment opportunities: In Chhattisgarh, in many villages, earnings from activities such as collection of tendu leaves for rolling local cigars were affected when there was an influx of labourers from Bihar who were willing to work for low wages.
  3. Poor market and exploitation by local traders/middlemen were no less demoralising.
  4. Possessed forest lands (including the lands recognised under the FRA) that are small, of poor quality (particularly lands located on hill slopes) and are not very fertile.
  5. High degree of emigration: To enhance their income, they migrate to work as construction or road-laying labourers. 
  6. Poor educational level: given the quality of education received by the youth in the remote districts, the possibility of acquiring meaningful jobs remains thin.
  7. Dependence on Subsistence farming: A majority of the tribal communities in India are poor and landless. They practise small-scale farming, pastoralism, and nomadic herding.
  8. The lack of irrigation facilities forces them to depend only on rainfall.
  9. On the Human Development Index, the tribal-populated States always rank lower than the national average. 

Way Forward:

  1. Horticulture promotion: NGO representatives working in the tribal areas believe that the livelihoods of the locals would improve if horticulture practices are promoted in addition to bamboo and aloe vera plantations with an assured market.
  2. A popular recommendation is medical and ecotourism along the lines of the Kerala model.
  3. Providing skillbased education with assured jobs on a large scale in proportion to the demand would do wonders in these areas.
  4. Schemes and programmes already drafted for the tribal people must be implemented in letter and spirit across the country. With protective laws like the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, in place, it is only a matter of will.
  5. Induct people who are sensitive to the cause of tribal people in the decision-making process at every stage.

Conclusion: The FRA was never going to be a panacea to address all the issues of the tribal people, but it is important. To improve the condition of the tribal people, especially those living in remote areas, there needs to be a push on every possible aspect of their socioeconomic life.


2. Troubled waters: More efforts should be made to wean away fishermen from trawlers

  • Page 6/Editorial
  • GS 2: IR

Context: The arrest of 68 Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan authorities between December 18 and 20 and the impounding of 10 boats for “poaching” in territorial waters have again raised concerns about the fate of the men.

  • It is a matter of comfort and relief that the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka is working to secure their early release.
  • Fishermen from Tamil Nadu getting arrested and released later has become a routine affair, but there have been cases of deaths.
  • In January 2021, four fishermen from Ramanathapuram district lost their lives after their vessel collided with a Sri Lankan naval craft. There was a similar case in October in which a fisherman died. This is why the Palk Bay fishing dispute needs a resolution soon.

Discussions with Sri Lanka:

  • No avail: Many rounds of discussions — at the levels of the fishermen and the governments of the two countries — have not led to any tangible improvement in the situation should not deter the pursuit of sustained engagement to sort out a problem that involves humanitarian and livelihood issues.
  • The bone of contention between the two countries has been the use of bottom trawlers by the Tamil Nadu fishermen, a practice opposed in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province on the ground that trawling damages the marine ecosystem. This practice has been banned in Sri Lanka and there have been agitations for stringent enforcement of the law.

Failures of the schemes to replace bottom trawlers:

  • The main reason for failure is the component of cost to be borne by the fishermen, accounting for 30% of the unit cost of ₹80 lakh; the two governments take care of the remaining 70%.

Way Forward:

  • Think of Sri Lankan Tamil: More than anything else, the fishermen of Tamil Nadu should take into account the fact that their counterparts on the other side of the Palk Strait are still struggling to pick up the threads of their lives after a brutal civil war.
  • Route out bottom trawlers: Given that an ambitious ₹1,600 crore scheme of replacing in three years 2,000 bottom trawlers with deep-sea fishing boats equipped with long lines and gill nets continues to be a disappointment, both the Central and Tamil Nadu governments need to take up fresh initiatives to get the fishermen on board.
  • Redesigning schemes: Apart from increasing the unit cost at least to ₹1.2 crore, which will be at the same level as that of a similar scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY), the Governments must increase their share of subsidy.
  • Motivate the fishermen to adopt sea cage farming and sea/ocean ranching, which were all covered under the PMMSY.

Conclusion: Such an approach is essential as the fishermen find it hard to restrict themselves to India’s territorial waters, given the limited marine wealth and area on the Indian side. But, the priority now for New Delhi should be in securing the swift release of the 68 fishermen.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *