After centuries of struggle, India’s Adivasi peoples and forest dwellers can secure their rights to govern, manage, and use their customary forests
Nearly 250 million people live in and around forests in India. They include about 100 million members of indigenous ‘Scheduled Tribes,” known as Adivasi, the collective name for India’s many Indigenous Peoples. Descendants of the earliest inhabitants of the subcontinent, the Adivasi comprise more than 200 distinct peoples who speak more than 100 languages. They rely on forests for food, water, habitat, and their livelihood. India’s colonial laws stripped the Adivasi of their customary forest rights, and many are displaced, criminalized and impoverished. Most forestland is owned by the state, with large areas contracted to private sector companies.
The 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) aims to redress this historic injustice. It gives Adivasi and other traditional forest dweller communities the right to govern, manage, and use their ancestral forests. However, few have secured their rights due to resistance and low capacity in government institutions and lack of awareness in Adivasi communities.
With Tenure Facility support, the Indian School of Business (ISB), the research and policy advocacy group Vasundhara, and the Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative (SRUTI) are capitalizing on current political will, grassroots mobilization, and civil society strength in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh to implement the Act. They aim to build the awareness, capacity, and momentum required to upscale implementation of the FRA across the country. Full implementation could secure community tenure and jurisdiction over 32 million hectares of forest claimed by 150 million tribal and forest-dwelling people living in 170,000 villages.