ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Political Economy of Community Forest Rights

Political Economy of Community Forest Rights

The various dilutions, contradictory policies and litigations challenging the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act reveal the range and depth of opposition from an entrenched forest bureaucracy on the one hand and non-state actors on the other. The lack of implementation support to it also indicates a refusal of the political system to embrace the historic opportunity created for democratic governance of forests in India.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (hereafter FRA) was a landmark legislation that sought to restore the rights of forest dwellers over land (for cultivation and habitation), community forest resources and habitats, and the governance and management of forests. But 10 years later, we see that there has been a serious shortfall in the implementation of the community forest resource (CFR) rights provisions of the FRA (see Kumar et al in this issue). In most villages across states, villagers are simply unaware of these provisions. But even when they have applied for these rights, in many cases their claims have been (i) left pending for several years, (ii) illegally rejected, (iii) only partially granted, (iv) granted with the imposition of illegal conditions in CFR titles, (v) granted much smaller area than being used by the community, and/or (vi) CFR titles issued in the name of the gram panchayat or joint forest management committee (JFMC) but not the gram sabha.

What might explain this state of affairs? Taking a political economy perspective, we suggest that there are three different factors operating simultaneously: limitations of the central and state tribal welfare departments, active obstruction by the forest departments and their central ministry, and pressure from several non-state actors. We draw upon a review of various government orders/circulars and our own field experiences in different regions of India to develop and illustrate these arguments.

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