Nearly a quarter of a billion people in India depend on forests for survival. They include Indigenous Peoples or Adivasi, the collective name for India’s ‘Scheduled Tribes.’ The Adivasi have struggled for centuries against colonial-era forest laws, which have seen them dispossessed, criminalised and marginalised. In 2006, the Government of India passed the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to redress these historical injustices. The FRA has the potential to catalyse one of the largest public land reforms in the world, which would transform lives and restore dignity to some of India’s poorest peoples.

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Currently, about a quarter of India is classified as forestland. The FRA recognizes Adivasi and forest dwellers’ customary rights to use forestlands and empowers village assemblies to govern and manage community forests. Full implementation could secure more than 32 million hectares of forest claimed by 150 million tribal and forest-dwelling people living in 170,000 villages. (See map below.) Implementation would provide exciting opportunities for communities to restore degraded forests and launch sustainable economic initiatives, as well as improving the role of women, giving them seats on village councils, known as “Grand Sabahs”.

Unfortunately, resistance and weak capacity in government institutions, as well as a lack of awareness at community level are impeding implementation of the FRA. Barely 3% of potential rights holders have been recognized, mainly in areas where civil society organisations have been actively working with local populations.

In 2018, the Indian School of Business (ISB), the research and policy advocacy group Vasundhara, and the Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative (SRUTI) began supporting India’s Adivasi and forest dweller communities to secure their community forest rights under the Act. This Tenure Facility-funded initiative capitalizes on political will, grassroots mobilization, and civil society, building awareness and capacity through the innovative use of an online portal and mobile app. It aims to secure the rights of 5,000 villages over 1 million hectares of community forestland, as well as engaging with the private sector to promote the business case for clear tenure rights. The initiative will also contribute to India’s commitment to sequester 2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

For a Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF), go here.

For a timeline of land and forest rights in India, click here.

To learn more about the work of the Tenure Facility’s partners in India, see below.


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