Odisha Tribals, Forest Dwellers allege forcible plantations by Forest Department in their Individual and community Forest land

Bhubaneswar: In a discussion organized by Civil Society Organizations at Lohia Academy on 8th Nov 2017, tribals and forest dwellers coming from different districts alleged forcible plantations in their individual and community forest land by the Forest department. Sharing the plights of plantation, Rebati Juanga, a Juanga PVTG woman from Rangamatia village of Banspal Block of Keonjhar district alleged that “the forest department people taking advantage of our simplicity first offered work for digging pits in our land saying that all the plantation would be of yours, latter on they started fencing the forest restricting collection of minor forest produce and grazing our cattle. When we understand the conspiracy, we protested collectively and driven the forest department out from our village.” Likewise tribals from Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Ganjam, Koraput, Mayurbhanj, Gajapati, Baleswar, Khordha, Boudha etc. alleged forcible plantation by the forest department even on forest land where they have been issued Individual Forest Rights titles under FRA, 2006.

It is to be noted that in 2006, the Forest Rights Act recognized both individual and community rights of adivasi and forest-dwelling communities in the forest land. Not only that the Act also empowered the gram sabha to protect and manage the forest by its own members, however the Forest Department has forcibly done plantations on hundreds hectares of forest and degraded lands where these communities live, practice agriculture, graze their cattle, collect food and forest produce every day. Despite FRA, 2006 plantations has been the core part of the Central and Odisha government’s strategy to ‘compensate’ for the loss of forest cover for development projects. Since 1982, over 72,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been lost to mining, infrastructure and industries- more than 40% having been diverted since the introduction of FRA alone. Forest communities are dispossessed from their traditional lands first for these projects, and now again, when the Forest Department illegally undertakes ‘compensatory afforestation’ on their other common lands without their consent. In the recent past, Odisha has set up these plantations under schemes such as the Ama Jungle Yojana, Green India Mission, and even the MGNREGA. Activists and community representatives fear that this is likely to increase now that Odisha is set to receive Rs.42,000 crores under the newly introduced Compensatory Afforestation Funds Act (CAMPA).

The forcible plantations not only violate the FRA but also violate human rights badly affecting live and livelihoods of the tribal and forest dwellers. Where the FRA empowers Gram Sabhas to manage and conserve their customary forests, compensatory afforestation policies disregard their authority, and sets up commercial plantations through the now illegal VSS and other Joint Forest Management bodies. The plantations, fenced off or heavily guarded, replace native biodiversity with monoculture species that are commercially valuable but not at all for community livelihoods. Sometimes, these are even set up by razing pristine native forests, traditionally conserved and managed by the same Gram Sabhas.

In the meeting, tribals and forest dwellers vowed to protest all plantations programme in their areas and to manage the forest by their own and declared campaign against CAMPA Fund Act, 2016.

Senior Journalist Rabi Das, Retired DFO Nadia Charan Kanungo, Editor of Samadrusti, Sudhir Patnaik and Environmentalist Biswajit Mohanti joined as guest in the discussion and advised the tribals and forest dwellers how to deal with the forcible plantation by the Forest Department in the coming days.

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