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6. Access to Grazing

We help pastoral communities file community forest right claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) as a means of ensuring the security of tenure in accessing and using traditionally grazed lands.

Pastoral communities experience a continuing challenge to access traditionally grazed lands on account of growing restrictions within conservation areas managed by the Forest Department, like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, owing to the encroachment of grasslands for agriculture, Forest Department plantations, industry and so on. Sahjeevan works closely with pastoralist communities in Gujarat to enable them to have more secure access to grazing lands. Claim-making by these communities takes place primarily under the provisions of the FRA.

As with tribals and other forest dwellers, pastoralists’ access to land and forests has been affected due to large-scale encroachment of traditionally grazed lands as well as the process of consolidation of state forests with the creation of reserve and other categories of forests. Notification of state forests has led to pastoralists losing traditional access to and control over grazing lands in all pastoral areas across the country, with examples from Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and more. These issues have occurred multiple times as part of the effort to secure rights of access and use by forest-dwelling and forest-dependent communities.

 

Although the act was passed in 2006, there have been relatively few instances of pastoralist communities using the FRA to file for community claims to access and manage these lands. In large part, this is owing to pastoralist mobility which results in pastoralist communities using resource-rich habitats such as the extensive alpine pastures of the Himalayas, the arid and semi-arid expanses of Rajasthan and Gujarat and the grasslands of the Deccan Plateau for part of the year, and village commons in densely settled agricultural communities for a different part of the year. In the former, the pastoralist’s need for access to grazing resources is contested primarily by the Forest Department, which views it as a threat to the biodiversity, wildlife and other ecosystem services. In the latter instance, it is agricultural communities competing for village commons that pose the greatest challenge to pastoralist access to these grazing areas.

Tenure insecurity characterises pastoralist rights in both situations, with two facets of their struggles making them distinct from other communities seeking to secure their resource rights. Firstly, because pastoralists tend to move from one area to another, they are generally absent from contested spaces for up to 6 months of the year, sometimes longer. They are then perennial visitors to a given area, with less ability to influence decision-making and events. And second, in densely settled areas, pastoralists often claim grazing rights alongside those of agricultural communities who might use village commons for a variety of purposes. Here too, herders would appear to be at a disadvantage, given that they are easily portrayed as outsiders, with little ability to contest the political or other forms of muscle that are available to the communities whose areas they are passing through.

Although the FRA does make provisions for recognising pastoralist rights, there have been limited successes. Due to this and the complexities associated with pastoralist tenurial issues, Sahjeevan works with communities to facilitate claim-making in different parts of Gujarat. We believe such an initiative is needed in order to deepen our understanding of what such claim-making will entail and the kinds of issues that it will need to confront. Given the extraordinarily diverse work that has already taken place with regard to claim-making amongst forest-dependent, settled communities, we believe that recognition of pastoralist rights represents a frontier area within the larger context of the FRA.

KACHCHH
In the early 2000s, Sahjeevan and BPUMS began noticing that large parts of the Banni grassland were being encroached upon by individual pastoralists who were cordoning off large tracts of land where they practised dry land agriculture. Such encroachment threatened the very idea of the Banni as a commons — a landscape used and managed communally in support of mobile animal husbandry. Following intense discussions within the community, a movement was launched with the slogan “Banni ko Banni rehne do” – let the Banni remain a grassland.

In order to ensure that the Banni remained an open commons, BPUMS worked with Sahjeevan to mobilise pastoral communities and file claims under the FRA for community grazing access to the Banni grassland. Sixteen Gram Panchayats participated in the claim filing process, and 47 claims were submitted to the sub-divisional committee. Although these claims were approved by the sub-district and district-level committees, the residents of the Banni are yet to receive a formal title, signifying their traditional rights over the grassland. These developments mark the first instance of the FRA being used for the benefit of pastoralists and are a significant step in empowering them and lend hope for similar efforts elsewhere.

In recognition of the growing threat to the Banni from agricultural encroachment, BPUMS took its own members to court by filing a plea in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), demanding that encroachments be removed from there. Following a number of hearings, the NGT finally ordered that the encroachments be removed and the Banni be properly surveyed and demarcated.
We are now anchoring participatory mapping of the Gulf of Kachchh — the Kharai Camels’ pastoral and breeding grounds. These processes will be vital for pastoral communities to pursue FRA claims over their grazing lands.

SAURASHTRA
Encroachments by powerful members of local communities and increasing restrictions on access to forest lands have made life difficult for Saurashtra pastoralists. Herders often need to rely on farm fallows on unfavourable terms to graze their animals. Additionally, a lot of the customary Gochar land (revenue land for grazing) has been given to the wind farms or mining companies, leaving no or little space for the pastoralists to graze.

Our FRA-related work in Saurashtra currently focuses on the districts of Porbandar and Jamnagar. In the Kutiyana taluka of the Porbandar district, Ubhidhara and Dhruvada villages have submitted their claims to the sub-divisional committee. Two other villages in the district, Timbines and Gargariyanes, have formed Forest Rights Committees. In Jamnagar district, Bamathiya village from Jamjodhpur district and Sanosara village from Lalpur taluka have submitted their claims to the sub-divisional committee.