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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Forest, Livelihood and Development: A comparative study of the experience of two ‘’Progressive’’ Laws, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA)’ , 13th May, 2014


In post liberalization era two contradictory phenomena emerged in India’s forest areas. In these areas the process of privatization of resources increased but forest dwelling communities have vehemently resisted this process. A large part of this resistance has been related to struggle for ‘better’ or ‘progressive’ laws. In post 1990 era two such laws have been enacted for these areas. One is Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA) and the other is Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) 2006 (or Forest Rights Act or FRA). PESA extends 73rd constitutional amendment to the Schedule V areas and makes important provisions for the autonomous Gram Sabhas in these areas. FRA, on the other hand, is related to forest areas of the whole country and gives individual property rights over ‘encroached’ forest land and community property rights over forest land and its resources. It also makes important provisions for the conservation of wildlife. These laws are commonly termed as ‘progressive’ laws because tribal groups waged a long struggle for these laws and apparently got some crucial rights over the affairs of their villages (particularly in PESA) along with forest land and its resources (in both PESA and FRA). This paper attempts to probe that in post-liberalization era, when we see an inclination in the government’s policies to hand over the natural resources of forests to corporate capital, how can we evaluate and comprehend the experience of PESA and FRA, which give local communities rights over forest land and its resources? Can we say that through these laws state has found a tool to control forest areas and make population of these areas more legible? Have these laws given local communities rights over their livelihood sources or work as a tool to make the process of handing over forest resources to corporate capital easier? Or like people’s movement we should also accept that both these laws could undo all ‘historic injustices’? This paper presents its arguments at three levels: first, it presents an introduction of both these laws and analyzes their general experiences; second, it underlines through some case studies how local communities are using these laws to resist state imposed development and also trying to create an autonomous space for themselves. At the third level, the paper proposes the idea of ‘Marginal Society’ and ‘legalism for below’ to describe the experiences of both these laws. The speaker argues that due to the activities of grassroots organizations and Maoists and their day to day experience with state, people of forest areas (and most of Schedule V areas) have realized the significance of law in their life and hence demanded for ‘better’ laws, which could ensure their rights over forest land and resources. They are also using these laws to oppose state imposed ‘development’ model. State on its part, adopted the strategy to give minimum possible rights to these communities or even after giving rights through laws, state is not implementing them seriously or putting hurdles to their proper implementation. This paper proposes that though the experience of both PESA and FRA is less than satisfactory, nevertheless one can easily find that the struggle for the enactment and implementation of these laws have increased the political consciousness of many local communities and many local groups are using these laws as a tool for their struggle to preserve livelihood resources in their control.


Dr. Kamal Nayan Choubey teaches in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, Delhi and is currently a Junior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

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