Odisha tribal unaware of rights, entitlement


By Smita Nayak

Jharsuguda: A Catholic priest with tribal roots in Odisha bemoan that his people remain unaware of their rights and entitlement despite technology and digital revolution in India.

“Despite all hype of such revolution, tribals of Odisha hardly know about their rights, government schemes and policies that are meant for their “so-called development,” says Fr. Bartholomew Bilung, vicar general of Sambalpur diocese

Father Bilung from Sundargargh district was speaking at the two-day training on Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Area (PESA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA) at Jharsuguda, January 18 -19.

It is the duty of the government to sensitize tribals of their rights, said the priest, professor of theology.

As per the 2011 census, the tTribal population in India is 8.6 percent and in Odisha 15 percent. Tribals are the original inhabitants of the land therefore, they are known as Adivasi. Their identity is mostly linked to land and water but in reality, they do not have their own land. As a result, 50 percent of tribals have migrated in search of their livelihood.

Politically speaking, the situation Adivasi is that they don’t get respect from society. They are always treated badly by others. Still, they are struggling to get settled. They are living in a small hut without having land. Some depend upon the forest products for their livelihood. In rural areas in the field of education, they are slowly becoming aware of education. Most of the children are sent to the Government Ashram where they are not being educated properly, Father Bilung said.

In India, 25 percent of children are not able to read and write. In tribal context, it could be 60 to 70 percent children are not able to read and write according to media reports. Compulsory pass from Grade 1 to 8 is also another consequence. As a result, children take the least interest in education. Because of poverty, they are not able to educate them in private schools.

Cyprian Kiro, an advocate, spoke on the Adivasi situation in Sundargarh district. In Odisha there are 62 types of Tribals constitutionally recognized, out them 13 tribals groups are known as a Primitive Tribals. He discussed the causes of the downfall of the Adivasi population in Sundargarh and how their numbers are decreasing day by day.

Kiro also addressed on Gram Sabha Rudhi, PESA & FRA, regulation of Gram Sabha, District Autonomous Council, State Tribal Advisory Council, modality of political and legislative behaviour with Gram Sabha, development process in reference with Tribal Fund and Census 2021 and FRA.

In his presentation, Kiro discussed on 5th Schedule area (where the Tribal population is predominant) and good governance. He focused on the details implementation of PESA act. In Odisha, there are 30 districts, out of that seven districts come under 5th Scheduled area and other six districts are partially scheduled 5th area. The scheduled 5th area is protested under PESA Act 1996.

The 5th schedule area is the area where more than 50 percent of tribal living in the district or hamlet. There are also certain areas where more than 50% percent Tribals are living but census does not represent the tribal population. It is necessary to do a survey without partiality. The census represents the tribal population wrongly, as a result, their population has become less. He also gave the example of Soura tribe of Odisha, many are lost their identity due to wrongly mention their surname, as a result, tribal populations are decreasing. The government officials are intentionally doing this entire thing.

PESA act has given the supreme power to Gram Sobhha to manage their own culture within the purview of the act under Article 243 M (4) (2) but unfortunately, this act is not functioning in Odisha. People should aware of this act and demand for their right.

“The PESA act is the federal act which gives power to Tribal community’s self-governing rule. Before its implementation, the self-governing rule was not recognized and the three-tier Panchayatraj system is not for us. This act is for people in general for Tribals for a self-governing rule. PESA act came into existence in 1996. It is very sad things that PESA is not implementing here,” said Fr. Satya Prakash Tigga, a resource person from Chhattisgarh.

The PESA Act law speaks that in 5th Scheduled area where Tribals are empowered to manage their affairs according to their own culture within the purview of the Act, but due to the negligence of tribals it didn’t happen, the priest lamented.

“We need to know about our rights. After knowing, we should work for its proper implementation,” said Tigga, a tribal.

Speaking on the FRA act, 2006, Jitendra Sahu, advocate, focused what is FRA and what does the FRA do? Who is a forest dweller under this law, and who gets rights? And he also mentioned the detailed application of the process of Community Forest Right Act.

The FRA has challenged the age-old State hegemony over forest protection and conservation in the name of “scientific forest management” and has strengthened the conservation regime handing it to the community people who live and die in the forest. The biggest enemy of FRA is the Vana Suraksha Samiti (VSS), an affiliate of Hindu right-wing groups, Sahu said.

Another important issue identified in the process of FRA implementation in the State is that the Odisha government did not comply with the Central PESA Act, 1996 in 1997 and did not give recognition to the hamlet level Gram Sabha in the scheduled 5th areas. Thousands of individual forest rights claims are pending at different levels i.e Gram Sabha, SDLC and DLC, and even thousands of individual claims said to have been remanded back to Gram Sabha, Government of Odisha is arbitrarily trying to end the Forest Rights Recognition and Settlement Process.

“The Supreme Court has strongly endorsed the role of gram Sobha. PESA & FRA Act is our Act. So we need to know the importance of the act. Adivasi Identity is with water and land. If we are talking PESA & FRA, all this is for our identity. If we know our rights then only we could unite and act for our rights then there will be change. This is not only for us but for our future generations,” said Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh, director of Odisha Forum for Social Action.

Finally, Bishop Niranjan Sual Singh of Sambalpur spoke in his concluding remark as he encouraged the participants to share the knowledge that they gained in the programme on PESA and FRA in their respective areas.

Most of the participants heard the concept of PESA and FRA for the first time and they were not clear about it. This workshop indeed helped them to gain knowledge. They are keen to know about the act and its implementation. The 60 participants were community and church leaders.

The Odisha Forum for Social Action in collaboration with Jana Vikas and Sambalpur diocese organized the event.

“The objective of the program was to sensitize the Church functionaries and community leaders on PESA and FRA so as to have a complete understanding of program schemes, packages, and laws,” Fr. Thomas Hasda, a participant, told Matters India.

The PESA gives power to tribals to assert for their right. Therefore, it is the right time to think and discuss the implementation of it, added Hasda, a tribal.

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