A special lid allows non-biodegradable objects like plastic bottles to be flushed out. The excreta enters through a separate opening into  the digester tank

Over 1.3 million tribals and forest dwellers have got rights over the land they had been using for years under the Forest Rights Act. This can, in some way, be called contemporary India’s largest land regime change—from the forest administration to the rightful owners of forestland. The Act promises another bounty—access to government schemes. But six years after the Act was enforced, lives of the forest dwellers have not changed much. Not one state has initiated concrete steps to officially register the title holders in the state land records. Without this they remain what they used to be—officially non-existent.

Ahead of the general elections in 2014, Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava,Aparna PallaviM Suchitra and Richard Mahapatra travel to the forest districts of Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh to assess the impact of the landmark legislation

Owning a piece of the planet is overwhelming. For Lange Manjhi, resident of Jurakhaman village in Odisha’s Kalahandi district, it is much more than that. He grew up in the forest village and cultivated the land he inherited from his father. But he had no legal right over it. Rather, he was called an encroacher. And an encroacher has no right over government’s development schemes. He cannot even sell his paddy to government agencies, forget about getting government loan to invest in his farm.

So he felt liberated in June 2010 when the Odisha government recognised his land rights and gave him title certificates, or pattas, under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. That month, the state gave titles to 54 families over 146 hectares (ha) in Jurakhaman. Development has started to show in Jurakhaman. Its landscape speaks of the changes FRA has brought in. Of the 54 families, 24 got money from the government to build houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana.

Whether it is Andhra Pradesh’s Amrabad villageWhether it is Andhra Pradesh’s Amrabad village (seen in pic) or villages in other states with considerable forest cover and forest communities like Odisha or Madhya Pradesh, FRA implementation has been similar. Some forest dwellers have got land titles, some are waiting for it, but most are yet to reap the benefits of development schemes (Photo: M Suchitra)

Under the horticulture department’s programme, many have mango trees in their farms, a future money earner. A new lift irrigation project irrigates 24 ha of 14 families. Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), people have developed their farms. “We hope the production will increase,” says Manjhi.

“Earlier, we would sell rice to local traders at Rs 500-700 per quintal (100 kg) when government’s price was Rs 1,200 per quintal,” says Dhan Singh Manjhi, village leader. Government agencies such as Food Corporation of India-authorised markets or farmers’ cooperatives would not accept foodgrain from an “encroacher’s” farm. This year, Manjhi and Lange together sold 4,500 kg of rice for Rs 45,000 to government agencies, an unheard of income in the village.

image“Development work has been proposed for families which have not availed the benefits yet. An irrigation project is also in pipeline,” says Sunita Tandy of Kalahandi-based non-profit Seba Jagat, which works for tribal rights.

Like Jurakhaman, many villages in Odisha are showing signs of prosperity. In Khariguda in Koraput district, 46 families got land titles. Of these, 16 constructed terraces on their farm slopes using MGNREGA. “My one acre (0.4 ha) farm will now fetch much more ragi,” says resident Bagh Mudli.

This is the development potential of FRA. Till June this year, 1.3 million families across the country got legal rights over 1.7 million ha, an unprecedented achievement. Most of them got legal right over their land for the first time. In contrast, under the much hyped land reforms programme, the government distributed only 2.2 million ha to 5.64 million families in the past six decades.

“If FRA is converged with government schemes, as the Act provides, and worked properly upon for at least five years, the economic condition of tribals will change drastically,” says Giri Rao of Bhubaneswar-based non-profit Vasundhara, which tracks implementation of FRA in the state.

A rough calculation shows that each title holder should have access to 56 government schemes covering land development, subsidised homes and government’s foodgrain procurement programme. “This priority convergence with government programmes makes the right an effective livelihood programme,” says N C Saxena, chairperson of the National Forest Rights Act Committee set up by the Centre to examine the implementation of FRA in 2010.

imagePondi village in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh is divided along several lines; some residents have both pattas and convergence, some have only pattas and some have nothing at all (Photo: Aparna Pallavi)

But the question is: have people reaped the benefits of FRA? The economic boom that these villages of Odisha are experiencing should have become a reality in 170,000 villages across the country. The environment ministry’s India Forestry Outlook study for 2020, published in 2009, estimates that 20 per cent of the forestland under government control would be with people once the Act is fully implemented. This is more than 15 million ha forestland. As many as 31 million ha forestland is used by villages, estimates Forest Survey of India. But the Act’s development potential has been least exploited (see ‘Not implemented, not converged’). Of the 19 states that have state action plans to implement FRA, none has taken up full scale convergence programme.

“Patta de kar bhool gaye”

In Madhya Pradesh’s Bhagpur village, people got titles in 2010. But convergence work is nil. “Patta dekar bhool gaye hain (Government has forgotten us after issuing claim certificates),” says resident Sundari Bai Dhurve. “We have to do land-levelling, bunding and need wells, irrigation pumps and electricity,” says another resident Khuman Veladi. “We cannot make a sustainable income on small holdings without these aids.”

FRA’s implementation is similar across the country. Some forest dwellers have got land titles  some are waiting for itResidents of Jungle Modi in Odisha were given titles to land parcels much smaller than what they had claimed(Photo: Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava)

In neighbouring Samaiya village, Chotelal Saiyam’s 4.4 ha family land was split among three brothers when they got land rights. “When the entire family shared land, some would look after agriculture and others would collect forest produce. Collectively, we managed a decent living. Now each family has to look after its own piece of land. Income from forest produce has fallen,” he says.

In Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh, convergence work has been undertaken in only two panchayats—Ajgar and Gaura Kanhari. “Even in villages where work has been done, only some people have received benefits,” says Hiralal Sarote, who livs in Katangola village of Madhya Pradesh and works for non-profit Nirmaan. In Pondi village of Ajgar panchayat, 81 claims were accepted, but only 31 land-levelling and bunding jobs were sanctioned. Only two of the five wells sanctioned could be completed. “Now the village is divided along several lines,” says Fulsingh Kewatia, FRA committee president, “Some have both pattas and convergence, some have only pattas and some have nothing at all.”

But the government has a long list of convergence work done in the state. Ashish Upadhyay, former commissioner, tribal development, who was transferred recently, says 70 to 80 per cent of the beneficiaries have been issued Kisan Credit Cards, with loans facilitated through cooperative banks. Till March 2013, as many as 54,000 houses have been sanctioned under Indira Awaas Yojana, 10,000 wells have been sanctioned under MGNREGA, and 20,000 motor pumps given under Central assistance scheme for tribal development. This apart, 7,000 land levelling jobs have been completed.

FRA’s implementation is similar across the country. Some forest dwellers have got land titles  some are waiting for itResidents of villages in Adilabad were happy to get land titles but were unaware of benefits they could claim under convergence (Photo: M Suchitra)

Titles given, not recorded

For the government, handing over land titles is the easiest step in implementing FRA. The tough task is officially changing the land’s regime. As per FRA, all forest villages, unrecorded settlements and old habitation must be converted to revenue villages. Notably, despite decades of efforts India still does not have proper records of lands.

“New titles must be recorded in government’s land records. Without this, title holders’ ownership will not be recognised,” says Sanjay Upadhyay, environment lawyer and former legal consultant with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA). “But no state has recorded fresh land titles in its revenue record. Hardly any forest village has been converted to revenue village. Everything is on paper, nothing has changed on ground,” says Upadhyay.

imageClaims of more than 50 per cent tribal households in Gunjiguda village in Odisha were rejected (Photo: Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava)“Our village does not have an irrigation tank,” says former sarpanch Ganesh Taram of Rampuri village in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district. “We urgently need wells to sustain paddy crops when there is little rain.” With their titles not registered in revenue records, they cannot avail government schemes. “This year we suffered huge losses due to heavy rains, but in absence of records, we are not eligible for government aids,” he says.

“According to revenue records, government is the owner of my land, not me,” says Vasudev Meshram of Jambhli village in the same district. “When I showed the document at the paddy procurement cooperative of the tribal development department, I was refused membership.” The state government has not demarcated his land on ground. Meshram is lucky to have the revenue record. Most of the 50 families in his village do not have their revenue records at all, though they received land claims under FRA in 2010.

In many states, convergence work has not started because of the absence of government guidelines on the process of issuing revenue record documents, says K V Dhurve, chief coordinator, forest rights, tribal development department, Maharashtra. It is not clear whether the document is to be issued in the owner’s name or the government’s, he says.

In Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, revenue and forest departments are in conflict over the status of forestland. Dispute over land ownership between revenue and forest departments is a big hurdle in the implementation of FRA. Neither the state governments nor the Centre is clear about the process of recording the rights and status of land after handing over titles. In 2011, when Madhya Pradesh raised doubts over the process of recording rights and the administration of FRA land post-settlement, MoTA said it was to be done as per the settlement rules of each state government and left it to them to decide it.

Pachlu Uike’s land in Orai village, Madhya Pradesh, was marked forestland with a pillar. He claimed his land in 2008 but the forest department did nothing about itPachlu Uike’s land in Orai village, Madhya Pradesh, was marked forestland with a pillar. He claimed his land in 2008 but the forest department did nothing about it (Photo: Aparna Pallavi)

A senior MoTA official admits correction of land records is tricky. “Every state has a different setup for maintaining land records, so each state will have to find its own way of recording the rights. The Centre cannot prescribe a uniform format,” the official says.

FRA a mere electoral issue?

The Central and state governments had electoral interests in FRA. The Act came into force in 2007, two years prior to general elections. In Maharashtra, most titles were given in 2008-09, says Pratibha Shinde of state-based non-profit Lok Sangharsh Morcha. “Now that the Lok Sabha elections are scheduled for April next year, people will start getting titles again,” she says. Countrywide, most titles were given between 2008 and 2010, the period when major forest-bearing states went to polls (see ‘Poll time to give land titles’).

Read more here-  http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/rights-without-benefits