University of Cambridge > > Political Ecology Group meetings > The Limits of Stewardship: land rights, legal mobilization by forest-dwelling communities and extraction in Odisha, India.

The Limits of Stewardship: land rights, legal mobilization by forest-dwelling communities and extraction in Odisha, India.

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Rogelio Luque-Lora.

The Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) of India was a significant moment in the history of forest laws as it challenged the colonial forest governance paradigm with the inclusion of forest-dwelling communities in conservation decision making. This had not been done through a statute before. The FRA however creates a divide by legal design of who benefits from the Act. It identifies Scheduled Tribes (ST) as the primary rights holder to forest rights and introduces a new category of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) who have to provide evidence of 75 years or three generations of having lived and depended on forests. A mammoth task for communities who do not have access to such evidence. Through extensive interviews with the forest and local bureaucracy across the extractive frontiers of Odisha, this presentation will bring to light how this divide by legal design has resulted in a particular administrative-legal interpretation of the worthy and unworthy steward. The ST being viewed as a worthy steward while the OTFD communities being seen as the unworthy steward and thus not deserving the recognition of their forest rights despite providing the required evidence. Drawing on the work of Alpa Shah and Tanya Li the question of concern for political ecology that this paper seeks to address is when particular notions of indigeneity inform the understanding of stewardship in law what does the law in action look like? Does it create as Tanya Murray Li argues in the formulation of a tribal slot or eco-incarceration of Adivasi communities as Alpa shah states or does it empower forest-dwelling communities to address historical wrongs experienced by recognizing their role as stewards as environmental law scholar Kabir Bavikatte elucidates.

I argue that in extractive areas where land rights are so tenuous, the FRA with its particular understanding of stewardship creates a divide by legal design causing rifts within the forest-dwelling communities. The state merely reinforces these fissures with its understanding of stewardship. Based on fieldwork in three mining sites, I demonstrate how OTFD communities are caught in a bind of proving their stewardship and relationship to the land as being legally valid and as authentic as that of the ST community. I address the ways in which they try to do this with the larger argument of the limits of the understanding of stewardship present in India’s forest laws that pits one vulnerable community against another. I explore an alternative legal paradigm of the rights of future generations to overcome this limitation.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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