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Forest act ‘non-starter’

Ranchi, Sept. 15: Forest Rights Act (FRA) might have been launched two years ago but it has done little good to the target group — communities living in the jungle areas — due to lack of implementation of the Centre’s flagship scheme across the country.

The concern was raised on the concluding day of a seminar on national consultation of livelihood, organised by Wada Na Todo Andolan, a national watchdog that tracks government’s advocacy and policies, today.

“Even as people begin to use the act as a weapon to get their rights, most communities such as tribals are confused about the scope of the act and the process to file claims,” said Subrat Kumar Sahu of National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers.

The act may be meaningful but can solve nothing by itself. “In two years, there have been a handful of instances when people were given their rights. There are no official estimates about how many people have benefited by this act. Around 5 lakh tribals in Orissa and Jharkhand were displaced due to developmental projects since 2004, but not even one fourth of them have been rehabilitated,” he said, adding that the rate at which displacement takes place is inversely proportional to the implementation of FRA.

Though there are no official records of implementation of FRA in the state, last year’s figures prepared by a 19-member committee constituted by the Union ministry of forest highlights that Jharkhand had granted land rights to barely 7,207 forest dwellers out of lakhs of displaced people in the region.

“It’s depressingly low considering the population of tribals in Jharkhand,” said Sahu.

At present, the forest cover in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh stand at 30 and 38 percent, respectively. The pace at which miners and other industries are lobbying to set up their plants here raises a serious threat to its ecology. The Centre has identified around 20,000 mining projects across the country this year. Out of which over 400 new mining projects are waiting for clearance in Jharkhand alone. No one has any rehabilitation agenda in place till now,” said Ramesh Sharma of Ekta Parishad, who has been fighting for the interests of the tribals for last one decade.

Even the claims for the rights have been poor. “It is because of two reasons. Firstly, there is lack of awareness. Secondly, to some extent many are forcefully asked to withdraw their claims and in some cases are being rejected several pros and cons,” said Sharma.

So while industrialists are elated with Arjun Munda’s come back in Jharkhand it will be interesting to see whether he prefers industries or forests.

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