On the 24th of October 2017, Forest Rights Act (FRA) training for communities in the Aracode region was held. It is situated on the Northern slopes of the Nilgiris. The region consists of tribal hamlets with an estimated population of 2000. The training was held with a purpose to assist the communities in mapping the forest land that they will want to have access to. There are nine villages in the aracode region- (Garikyur, Bangalapadigai, Samigudyal, Vakanamaram, Mudiyur, Kokode, Bavikarai, Chakapadigai & Pongamokai). Among these nine villages Mudiyur, Kokode, Bavikarai, Chakapadigai & Pongamokai have only an average of four to five families residing in each of them. These villages do not have an individual Forest Rights Committee (FRC) to advocate for them. The training also had its focus on providing support to the small villages with the help of the other FRCs.
Community Forest Rights (CFR) is an essential element for indigenous communities. Communities have been depending on the forest in the past. Besides providing them with the right to utilize the forests for collecting food, medicines etc; it also helps to ameliorate the living standards of the whole community by giving them an option for livelihoods rather than depending on day labour jobs and it further strengthens local governance of forest and natural resources. Under the Forest Rights Act 2006, it is mandatory for every village to have a FRC. They will be responsible for mapping the forest land they use, submitting claims and in following up with the respected officials. Once this is completed, the community will be eligible according to the law to have access to the forest for collection and for livelihoods purposes.
In Vakanamaram, there are a total of 23 families. They depend on the forest for collecting non-timber forest produce for revenue and for their own consumption as well. Out of these, six families work on coffee plantations as day wage labours for their subsistence. After obtaining CFRs, these families can use the forest to collect produce that can be sold for revenue. People living in communities largely claim only for Individual Forest rights (IFR) rather than rights for the entire community. The training also focused on encouraging the community to claim CFRs that shall benefit the entire community rather than individuals. With the presence of Aadhimlai Pazhangudiyinar tribal producer company, an accessible market is readily available for them to sell the produce they grow or collect.
Similarly, in Bangalapadigai, there are 26 families residing in the village. Most of them practice millet cultivation which has been the traditional practice. Considering the area being a rain shadow region, millet is the most suitable crop to be grown beside its cultural significance. It not only provides these communities with revenue but also with nutrition, fodder for cattle etc; the village also has PGS (a decentralized organic farming certified system) farmers that grow coffee and pepper. Sivraj – Community Coordinator and resident of Bangalapadigai says ‘the community at present have pattas for three acres and thirty cents, but adjacent to it, there are 80 acres of land that they have been claiming patta for more than two decades’. It is beyond belief that despite winning the case in 1993 at the district court, the community still hasn’t received pattas for the land.
The training was attended by representatives of each village. Villagers and representatives from all the nine villages got together to map the forest area, in such a way that it will be accessible for all the communities in the region. The claims will be submitted to the officials by next week says P. Chandran (Additional Coordinator), who has been facilitating and conducting FRA training for indigenous communities. Additionally, they will also meet the forest officials to reach an agreement in regard to the Village Forest Management Committee, who will be managing the part of the forest that they have claimed rights for.