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A Commitment to Forest Rights could change the course of the 2019 General Election A campaign for implementation of the FRA could capture 133 seats

20, Mar 2019 | SabrangIndia Staff

Poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) which legalises the land rights of India’s 200 million forest dwellers, could be, if made into a vibrant election issue, become a deciding factor in how a fourth, i.e. 25 per cent (133 of 543) constituencies vote in the coming general election. A detailed analysis by the Community Forest resource-Learning and Advocacy Network is illuminating.

In 2014, of constituencies with a large tribal population, as many as 59 % had voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However the conduct of the NDA II government at the centre and the BJP-RSS ruled governments in several states –coupled with very real fears of eviction of forest dwellers from their homes, following a Supreme Court order (February 13, 2019), during which the Centre was sharply criticised for its silence during the prolonged proceedings, could push voters towards opposition parties. That is, if the Opposition consisting of regional parties in some states and the Indian National Congress in others makes a firm commitment on the implementation of the Act and a political push back against the regressive Supreme Court Order.

CJP is working to ensure forest rights for Adivasis in Sonbhadra, and to deepen our understanding of the Forest Rights Act. We support the struggles of forest workers and forest-dwelling communities across the country. Please support our efforts by donating here.

The Parliamentary Constituencies falling in the first four categories[1] have Forest Rights Act as a core issue, which can significantly influence winning margins in these constituencies. There are 133 such Constituencies across the mainland India ………. There are another 124 Constituencies where potential Forest Rights Act rightholders constitute between 10-20% of the eligible voters. In these constituencies, FRA issue can play an important role, in influencing voters, though it is may not be a core issue.

Value of FRA as an electoral factorNo. of SeatsBJPINCOthers
Won2ndWon2ndWon2nd
Critical Value 3021302195
High Value201271974
Good Value351822221511
Medium Value482842311814
Total No. of Constituencies where FRA is a core factor (at least 20% voters are also potential Forest Rights Act Rightholders)13379165834934
Constituencies where FRA is a marginal buts substantive issue124711411524258

 

In the 133 Core constituencies for Forest Rights Act, the current ruling party won as many as 79 PCs in 2014, while the closest Opposition party won a measly 5 PCs though they remain in the running in these 133 constituencies, as it came in 2nd in 83 out of 133 constituencies. Other parties won 49 seats, mostly in Odisha, AP, Telangana, Maharashtra and West Bengal. The breakup of others who won in these seats are BJD (17), Shiv Sena (6), TRS (6) and YSSRC (5), AITC (4).

Within these 133 core FRA constituencies, two of India’s leading national parties, INC and BJP ran directly against each other in as many as 68 seats, of which INC won only 3.

One may safely say that these 68 constituencies can be decisive in influencing next government formation.

A statewide breakup of the 68 Core FRA PC Constituencies where BJP and INC run against each other is as below:

StateNo of Core FRA ConstituenciesWon by BJPWon By INC
Chhattisgarh880
Gujarat770
Himachal440
Jharkhand440
Karnataka761
Madhya Pradesh16142
Maharashtra880
Rajasthan11110
Uttarakhand330

 

In four of the above states, the incumbent BJP state government has been voted out in 2018, implying that these states have become competitive in the Lok Sabha elections also. In that context, ability to leverage proper implementation of Forest Rights Act becomes extremely crucial. At least in Chhattisgarh, even during the assembly elections, the Opposition party had made poor implementation of FRA as a key issue and this was an important factor in its resounding success. This was not replicated in MP and Rajasthan by the same Opposition Party with the same strength and vehemence – the FRA remained a small part of the manifesto, and likely therefore the margin of victory for them was very poor.

Except Maharashtra and to some extent Gujarat, FRA implementation in BJP ruled states such as Jharkhand, UK and HP has been shoddy and aimed to subvert the intent of the law. Combined with MOEFCC/Forest bureaucracy led efforts at diluting FRA through CAF Act, the Draft National Forest Policy, changes in Land Acquisition Laws (LARR) have resulted in a dilution of the impact of this emancipatory law.

Parliamentary constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes

There are 36 ST seats in the mainland Indian states (excluding NE, L&K and the Islands). The current ruling dispensation won most of the ST seats and therefore has the most to lose, if FRA which is a core issue in all these constituencies, is raised effectively to be a factor of voting. Combined with MOEFCC/Forest bureaucracy led efforts at diluting FRA through CAF Act, the Draft National Forest Policy, changes in LARR, current ruling dispensation can be put on the back foot to a campaign based around Forest Rights, land rights and transfer payments of CAMPA and other green economy funds.

PartyWonRunners Up
BJP255
INC124
Others107

 

Political parties challenging the incumbent have everything to gain in ST constituencies by using the forest rights and land rights as a core campaign issue. Non BJP parties won only 1 ST seats, but was runner up in 24 of the ST seat in 2014. The campaign issues in these seats, especially the ones in mainland India, would be effective implementation of FRA, specially community rights, implementation of PESA, transfer payments of green funds[2] (including CAMPA money) to Gram Sabhas for forest and commons restoration directly, withdrawal of forest cases, effective price for MFPs etc. Given the poor record of incumbent governments, this approach will likely let parties win the majority of ST seats if it makes these issues a central plank in its campaign.

Note: This analysis is based on two sources of data- the Election Commission data on 2014 Parliamentary Constituency (PC) results and the PC Wise FRA potential based on Census data (2011) and includes all forest area located inside village boundaries. The assumptions made during calculating FRA potential are in the footnotes[3]. The data has been compiled by CFR_LA – (which is a list serve), which is helping collate all data and build the narrative at election time.

The parliamentary constituencies have been categorized in five categories as per the value of FRA as potential influencing factor in the elections, namely Critical Value; High Value; Good Value; Medium Value and Marginal Value. The criteria for the same are provided in the annexure. Based on the data, the following observation are available for the mainland India states accounting for 517 Parliamentary Constituencies (excluding the North-East India, J&K, A&N and Lakshadweep.) The detailed tables are provided in the Annex, with state wise information.

The importance of Forest Rights Act and its transformative potential for securing rights and livelihoods of millions of poorest tribal and forest dwellers remains understated in the political discourse and electoral process. Even though FRA’s potential has been unmet (with implementation limited to only 5-10% of the potential), but still it has emerged as the most important pro-poor land reforms in India’s history, transforming the life of millions of poorest tribal and forest dwellers. The Community Forest Resource (CFR) Rights provision of FRA is even more revolutionary in replacing the colonial forest governance by a people centered, democratic forest governance. Wherever implemented properly as in Gadachiroli district, Community Forest Resource (CFR) Rights Recognition has dramatically transformed rural economies.

Unfortunately, in most states Forest Rights Act remains very poorly implemented due to lack of political focus and sometimes necessary political will coupled with extreme opposition by forest bureaucracy. As per various estimates, at least 40 m ha of forest land (more than 50% of forest area) can be vested as CFRs with Gram Sabhas, securing rights and livelihoods of at least 20 crore people, including almost nine crore tribals. At least one fourth of the villages in the country (170,000) are eligible for CFR rights. The majority of districts with a high number of villages eligible to claim CFR are located in tribal majority and poverty-stricken regions, and face conflicts over land and resources.

Focused campaigning around Forest Rights, land rights and transfer payments of CAMPA and other green economy funds is crucial. This likely will extract a major price from the current dispensation in the forested constituencies.

To read about what a campaign for forest rights should demand in 2019, go here. To read about which constituencies could be affected by a campaign for forest rights, go here.

[1] AT least 20% of the eligible voters are also potential Forest Rights Act rights holders, mainly collective rights.

[2] Transfer payment to Gram Sabhas for forest protection and restoration: We assume that Rs. 2000/year/ha. would be transferred to the Gram Sabha accounts for their protection of forests; additional costs of plantations/other activities will be over and above this. The funds will come from the Rs. 60,000 CAMPA money and other schemes of greening India. We estimate that this would transfer at least Rs. 5,000 crores directly to tribal and forest dweller Gram Sabhas for effective and sustainable forest protection and management.

[3] All inhabitants of villages having forest areas inside the village cadastral boundary are treated as forest rights holders (for Community rights, specially Community Forest Resource Rights which provides power to govern and manage CFRs). The community rights are also applicable to most of the forests outside village boundaries- however making an estimation of such forest areas is relatively more difficult. This is the reason why we use the term minimum FRA potential.

 

Related:

Rights of Farmers, Agricultural Labourers, and Forest Workers in India

Crony capitalism imperils millions of India’s indigenous people

Supreme Court changes course on Adivasi rights

CJP in Action: Defending Adivasi human rights activists in courts

 

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