Individual Tenure Rights, Citizenship, and Conflicts: Outcomes from Tribal India’s Forest Governance

    1. Study Information


      This section discusses the 2013 article “Individual tenure rights, citizenship, and conflicts: Outcomes from tribal India’s forest governance” by Purabi Bose.1

      Between 2008 and 2010, fifteen months of fieldwork were carried out to collect data using in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. In total, 105 households (274 male and female respondents) engaged in in-depth semi-structured interviews, and four focus group discussions were conducted in six Bhil tribal villages in Banswara district.

      The study area covers six tribal villages from two sub-districts, Kushalgarh and Bagidora, of Banswara tribal district located in the southernmost part of Rajasthan. Forest in this semi-arid region is highly degraded. The communal grazing land is either degraded or encroached upon.

    2. Questions posed
      • What are the current implications of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) on tribal households' claim to individual forest tenure rights?
      • How does the FRA affect tribal households’ citizenship rights?
      • What are the underlying reasons for conflicts at the household level?
    3. Description of intervention

      The intervention involved law and policy. The “Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006” (FRA), is an effort to correct historical discrimination against forest dwellers. This discrimination has included excluding traditional forest dwellers from living in forests and from using forests for non-timber forest products. The FRA increases the authority of local communities over forest resources, and is an attempt by the government of India (GOI) to decentralize forest resource management through regulations and directives to the states.

      The FRA gives forest-dwellers rights to access, own, and manage forests and other traditionally accessed natural resources. In addition, individual rights to forest plots are granted for forestland being cultivated for agriculture, and community rights are given over larger areas of forest for cultural practices, bona fide livelihood needs, grazing, fisheries, water bodies, and management of forest resources. The individual rights are documented and therefore formalized by the State government, not by the local communities.

    4. Context of findings

      Most state forest land in India is inhabited by Scheduled Tribes, who use the forest under customary arrangements, but has been state controlled.

      Of the total 105 Bhil households interviewed, about 40% have property rights to an average of one hectare of agricultural land. Except for one household that has property under joint ownership (with the man as primary and the woman as the secondary owner), all the remaining households’ property was owned by men.

      About 52 households claimed that they had used forest land without tenure rights before the Forest Rights Act. With its implementation, between 2008 and 2010, the number of households claiming individual tenure rights almost doubled to 97 households. Many families paid bribes to get the proof of having used land for three generations so their claim could be approved by the village committee established to implement the Forest Rights Act.

    5. Key findings

      Unexpectedly, the Bhil saw a linkage between individual tenure rights and political recognition. The focus group discussions indicated that the main reason for getting individual tenure rights was to acquire recognition of their belonging to the forest land as well as citizenship rights.

      Out of 133 Bhil women respondents, 89 were of the opinion that claiming forest land (of on average less than 1 hectare) would improve their household’s social status. However, only 12 women mentioned that an increase in the household’s citizenship status directly benefitted them in addition to benefitting the household. Without tenure rights the women are not directly involved in political representation at the community level.

      Intra-household conflicts are mainly between men (and rarely between men and women). About 90% of women interviewed said their ability to use land was dependent on their belonging to the household. Overall, the findings indicated that the women and younger generation of the tribal household were not likely to gain individual rights to use the forest.

    6. Unanswered questions
      • Have women been harmed by having their household land titled in the name of men only?
      • How has that changed the household or community dynamic?
    1. Bose, P., 2013. Individual tenure rights, citizenship, and conflicts: Outcomes from tribal India's forest governance. Forest Policy and Economics, Vol 33, pp. 71-79