For the voices on the forest fringe -Anamitra Anurag Danda
The Sunderban region needs to be more effectively represented in Parliament
Immediately after the schedule of the seventeenth Lok Sabha election was declared, a news item appeared that said dwellers of the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans have demanded immediate implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the islands and declared that they would vote for candidates who support their cause. This demand was articulated by the Jana Sramajibi Manch, claiming to be an organization of fishermen and forest dwellers. The mangrove forests of the Sunderbans have no dwellers; nevertheless the JSM must be commended for spotting an opportunity and articulating the demands of forest-fringe dwellers who depend on ecosystem resources for livelihood.
Forty-six revenue villages are along the current forest fringe in the Sunderbans. These were settled at different times during the colonial period except Jharkhali in Basanti block that came to be settled post-Independence. Most of the populations in these villages would not qualify as ‘forest dwelling scheduled tribes’ and, therefore, it is important to know the definition of ‘other traditional forest dwellers’ under the FRA. The term, OTFD, means any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs. Here, ‘generation’ means a period of 25 years. All the residents of forest-fringe villages that came to be settled after 1930, therefore, would not qualify under the FRA. Perusal of land revenue records should help identify the villages that would qualify under the FRA.
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