Upscaling the process of recognising and implementing Community Forest Rights in Jharkhand

ISB-BIPP worked with multiple stakeholders in Simdega to upscale the Community Forest Resource (CFR) rights claim filing process of the targeted 175 villages in the pilot cluster blocks of Jaldega, Kolebira and Bano. To kick-start the process, the ISB team conducted three multistakeholder block level meetings at each of the three pilot blocks in September 2022. The operational plan included each stakeholder’s detailed role in this process and their responsibilities to upscale CFR and acted as a baseline for monitoring and learning indicators across project implementation timeline. The aim was to prepare a model for upscaling CFR and replicate the model across Jharkhand.  

The upscaling process required reconstitution of all targeted Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) at the Gram Sabha level. FRC is responsible for facilitating the process to secure CFR. After the claims are submitted to Sub-Divisional Level Committee and Forest Management Committees are constituted, the Forest Department and ISB-BIPP will co-develop the management plans. The Project Director – Integrated Tribal Development Agency provided the list of villages where Community Forest Resource rights were already recognized.  While preparing the list of 175 Gram Sabha FRCs, we noted that many FRCs were inactive and needed reconstituting. ISB-BIPP team verified the documents during the Gram Sabhas. The Forest Department, the SDLC, the ITDA, the Gram Sabhas, and the forest communities, agreed to work together, and the ISB-BIPP team will facilitate the reconstitution and modification of the FRCs. The ISB team couldn’t visit all 175 villages as it was not time and cost-efficient. ISB-BIPP team trained the Gram Pradhan and the Gram Sabha members, and other stakeholders/leaders to work with our field coordinators in the FRC reconstitution/modification. Presidents and secretaries will be called for a block-level meeting along with Panchayat head (mukhiya), Secretary, local staff and circle level officers. Forest range officers were also invited. ISB team trained the community representatives and concerned government officials on the CFR scaling process that must be followed, including role allocation and the mandatory presence on joint verification dates. 

We framed an operational plan for the trainees that included the steps and processes to be followed for the upscaling CFR.  

Before commencing the training, we require the accurate Record of Rights (RoR) to be submitted for the CFR claim filing. The RoR list does not include specific rights in all the land plots with a forestry component claimed in CFR. We contacted the District Revenue Officer for additional RoR and compartment history documents. We also collected the voter list of the villages from the block offices. RatiFi, an android build application build by our team will enable accessing all the documents for CFR claim filing, the forest boundary maps, process and status of the claims filed in one place to everyone on their mobile phones. We are training all the FRC members on the mobile application RatiFi. Our next step after preparing the documents was large-scale CFR claim filing. RatiFi app provides easy access to the forms in one place, but the Forest Rights Committee need a helping hand to print and file the forms without mistakes.  

We met the Sub-Divisional Officer to discuss the upscaling of the CFR claim filing process. He advised us to adopt a bottom-up approach in parallel and start by filing accurate claim files to accelerate the time period of claim approval and assured his support at every step. The Sub-Divisional Officer will scrutinize few sample claims for accuracy which can then be used as a sample for new claims, improving the efficiency of the process and reducing the rejection rate by the Sub-Divisional Level Committee. We will monitor the process for each FRC and ensure that there are no overlaps with joint verification dates for the same officials.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

To capture other MEL indicators, such as community participation, ISB-BIPP’s Project Specialist Mr. Sandip Chowdhury designed a form to be filled out by the field coordinators after conducting every community event. The team can track the updates and results online at any time. Field coordinators started contacting newly elected Panchayat Mukhiyas for their involvement in the CFR process. They were invited to the panchayat-level meetings to mobilize villages for CFR rights

Mr. Sandip Chowdhury, a Project Specialist on the ISB-BIPP team, met the District Collector of Simdega in July to review the operational plan for scaling up Community Forest Rights (CFR), and she voiced her support. The District Collector reviewed the ISB-BIPP team’s prepared paperwork for the recognition of CFR rights and agreed to collaborate with the District Level Committee on the CFR claim filing process. The District Collector agreed to instruct various department officials involved in the claim filing process concerning the development of CFR operational units, Forest Rights Committee (FRC) resource centres at all three pilot blocks, the forest department, the revenue department, the welfare department, JSLPS Self Help Groups, and the Village Office secretary to aid in the claim filing process in response to our request and discussion about the significance of CFR and how the communities will benefit from it. The District Collector was interested in testing the mobile application RatiFi in the pilot blocks. 

The block offices have been designated as the contact points and workspaces for all CFR document preparation and distribution. In the block offices, trainings for the CFR process were conducted. RatiFi trainings are being conducted at panchayat bhawans. In our second meeting with the District Collector, we made progress that accelerated the submission of CFR claims. She affirmed verbally instructing COs to activate district administration for CFR compliance. She also insisted that we use the internet copies of Khatian part 2 (RoR document). She has also directed a representative to inquire with the Project Director – ITDA about any available funding for conducting training pertaining to the CFR. She agreed to begin our work at the block level in accordance with our operation plan, suggesting that we could forego written directions from her office. 

Sandip met with the Project Director (PD) of ITDA (Integrated Tribal development Agency) in August to follow up on the CFR training funds mentioned with the Deputy Commissioner. PD-ITDA stated that they will conduct a refresher course on the CFR for all the involved district authorities, and we intended to use this opportunity to promote our upscaling objective. We also met with CO Kolebira and CO Bano and briefed them on the CFR operational strategy and the role of their respective block offices in scaling the CFR. In addition, the schedule for the first round of meetings and orientation with village and panchayat representatives at the block office was discussed. 

Mr. Sandip also met the recently appointed Tribal Welfare Commissioner of Jharkhand, Mr. Mukesh Kumar, at his Ranchi office. The TWC was updated on the latest advancements in the Simdega pilot, as well as the details and idea of IoFE and the operational strategy. He agreed to write a letter from the state to the federal government to accelerate the implementation of our operational strategy to scale CFR. 

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