Context: As the COVID-19 lockdown has coincided with the harvesting season, lakhs of tribals in Odisha, have pinned their hopes on sale of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) being collected during March-June.

How lockdown is impacting forest dwellers:

  • Impacting livelihoods: Forest products are seasonal in nature with major incomes of tribal accruing in the months of March to June. 
  • For instance, In Odisha, majority of population are landless in tribal regions. The earnings from forest products in 3-4 months period contribute to 60 to 80% of their annual income.
    • The incomes earned during these months are crucial for sustenance during monsoon season. During monsoon employment is not available for tribals.
    • The labour-intensive NTFP collection employs millions of tribals.
  • Since lockdown was imposed the weekly markets in tribal-dominated regions also started to fall apart. 

Major NTFPs collected during the summer season: Wild honey, tamarind, mango, tendu leaves, sal leaves, sal seeds, mahua seeds, neem seeds, karanj (pongamia) seeds, mahua flowers and tejpatta (bay leaf) etc.

Measures that should be taken by the government:

  • Establish and ensure collection centres function under the Van Dhan Vikash Kendra scheme.
  • Assured income: forest dependent communities must be assured of minimum support price and total procurement of minor forest products collected by them.
  • Tribal Development Co-operative Corporation should intervene and coordinate.
  • The market of minor forest produce should be recognized as critical for tribal community’s sustenance, like exemption accorded to agricultural operations through a recent Home Ministry guideline.

Forest Rights Act 2006

Salient features of Forest Rights Act 2006: FRA was enacted to right the historical injustice caused to

forest-dependent communities during the colonial and post-independence period by granting them rights over forest lands where they have traditionally resided.

It recognizes the rights of forest-dependent communities towards conservation of forest biodiversity

and maintenance of ecological balance while ensuring their livelihood and food security.

  • Title rights: The Act recognises and vests forest rights and occupation of forest land with Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
  • Use rights: These rights include the right to collect and sell Minor Forest Produce(MFP)/Non Timber Forest Products(NTFPs) and the right to live in the forest land for habitation or self-cultivation for livelihood, etc.
    • Thus the act provides the legal basis of ownership rights over NTFPs to forest dwellers. 
    • The remarkable impact of ownership rights over these forest products can be seen in terms of incomes and empowerment of tribals.
  • Disposal of minor forest produce’ includes individual or collective processing and storage by the Scheduled Tribes. The produce can be transported through appropriate means of transport (earlier transportation was only permissible by head-loads, bicycle and handcarts).
  • Process of recognition of rights: A process to identify unrecorded or unsurveyed settlements or forest villages by every Panchayat was introduced. A process of recognition of individual rights and community rights has been incorporated. The delineation of community forest resources may include existing legal boundaries such as reserve forests, protected forests and national parks.

Community rights: A definition of ‘community rights’ was added and includes rights such as (a)

ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce, (b) fishing and grazing, and (c) conversion of all forest villages into revenue villages.

Role of Gram Sabha: The Gram Sabha shall monitor the committee constituted for the protection of wildlife, forest and biodiversity. It has to approve all decisions of the committee pertaining to the issue of transit permits to transport minor forest produce, use of income from sale of produce, or modification of management plans.

Van Dhan Scheme 

Van Dhan Scheme: it is implemented through the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and TRIFED as Nodal

Agency at the National Level.

• The objective of the scheme is to establish“Van Dhan Vikas Kendra” for providing skill upgrading and

capacity building training and setting up of primary processing and value addition facility for Minor

Forest Produce.

  • Under Van Dhan, 10 Self Help Groups of 30 Tribal gatherers are constituted. They are then trained and provided with working capital to add value to the products, which they collect from the jungle.
  • Pradhan Mantri Van Dhan Yojana (PMVDY) is a Market Linked Tribal Entrepreneurship Development Program for forming clusters of tribal SHGs and strengthening them into Tribal Producer Companies has been launched with participation from all the 27 States from the Country.
  • The Van Dhan Vikas Kendras will be an important milestone in the economic development of tribals involved in collection of MFPs by helping them in optimum utilization of natural resources and provide sustainable MFP-based livelihood in MFP-rich districts.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/lockdown-halts-harvesting-season-in-forests/article31253235.ece

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