31 July 2014
Peaceful Forest Protest in India © Udit kulshrestha / Greenpeace
What is a Gram Sabha?
The Gram Sabha (elected every five years) is a meeting of all adults who live in the area covered by a panchayat. Anyone who is 18 years old or more and who has the right to vote is a member of the Gram Sabha.
What is its role?
Under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA), the Gram Sabha has been assigned a substantial role for the implementation of the provisions of the Act. The Gram Sabha plays a central role in safeguarding the customary and religious rights of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Tribal Forest Dwellers (TFD). It is also important in its role in acknowledging and deciding upon community forest rights claims. It also safeguards, preserves customs, cultural identity and community resources.
When is it used?
When the decision for developmental projects managed by the Government which involve felling of trees not exceeding seventy-five trees per hectare, and which require diversion of forest land, under Section 3 (2) of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
What rights does it safeguard?
These can be summarised as
1) Title rights, that is, ownership of land that is being farmed by tribals or forest dwellers as on 13 December 2005, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares. This ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family as on that date, meaning that no new lands are granted.
2) Use rights, that is, to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, and so on.
3) Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
4) Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife.
How are these rights determined?
Claims are acknowledged, consolidated and verified and then a map is prepared to specify the area of each recommended claim in such manner as it is recommended for the exercise of such rights. After a resolution is passed and a copy of it is forwarded to the Sub-Divisional Level Committee. This is the initial process for deciding the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights or both that may be given to the forest dwelling tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
How does it help?
The Union Environment Ministry's clearance for a project that affects communities is dependent on the votes in a Gram Sabha reflecting the opinion that the people want the project to go ahead. It helps protect the rights of people who have lived on and off the land for generations and check if they are in favour of the project. It is also a platform where people can make an informed decision after considering the resettlement or alternative packages prepared for the affected individual forest rights holders and communities whose forest rights are recognized.
Raise your voice to help create a better India where forests, wildlife and forest communities get their due. Demand that Jual Oram, Tribal Affairs Minister ensures that a free and fair Gram Sabha is held in Mahan.
Sridevi Padmanabhan is a content writer with Greenpeace India.