Technical Innovation of Use GPS & GIS
But this was not enough and that most of the pending claims, we believed, are also genuine (i.e. with cultivation from 2005 or before) and need to be approved. The main challenge, however, was to provide a credible evidence to establish that these land parcels are indeed being cultivated from 2005 or before.
To overcome this difficulty, ARCH developed an innovative method, where we train the local village leaders to carry out GPS surveys of all claimed lands. We then superimpose these plots on the Satellite Imageries from 2005 (and also later) and generate maps with satellite images in the background. These maps clearly show what was the condition of claimed plots of land in 2005 and provide conclusive evidence of whether these lands were being cultivated in 2005 or not, and how much. The tribal claimants have all welcomed this process of generating maps and are also willing to bear the costs. We have already mapped more than 20,000 land plots of nearly 15000 claimants from 3 to 4 districts in this manner.
Now the state government has also accepted these maps as evidence and has made arrangements for independent verification of these maps by the GIS cell of one of its research organizations, GEER Foundation based in Gandhinagar. By August 2017, the GEER Foundation has completed verification of about 3000 claims from 30 villages of Narmada district, with whom we work closely, and recommended approval of more than 95% of these claims and that too with proper area. All these claims shall soon be approved by the district authorities.
Community Forest Resource (CFR) Management
As far as community rights are concerned, all Gramsabhas of the area, where ARCH has been working, have received community titles over forest resources, including ownership rights on Minor Forest Produce, including bamboo and right to protect, regenerate, conserve and manage forest resources of their villages. After getting these rights, all village Gramsabhas have formed Community Forest Management Committees and have already started protecting forest areas from illegal cutting and forest fires. They are also using GPS to map forest resources and prepare village level forest management plans, including plans for watershed treatment with ridge to valley approach. Finalizing and implementing these plans for watershed development would thus be a crucial element for future course of action.
Some of the Gramsabhas have also harvested dry dead bamboo from their forest area and sold them to a paper mill, earning lakhs of rupees as net profit to the Gramsabha as well as lakhs of rupees as wages for cutting bamboo. Most important aspect of this activity has been that they have carried out this operation without causing any harm to the standing green bamboo and taking care that cut bamboos regenerate speedily. All the decisions in this regard are taken in a transparent manner in open meetings of the Gramsabhas, with active participation of all men and women.
Next Generation of Development linked to Property Rights
With titles in hand, the tribal families have now long-term security of tenure on these lands and hence can invest in measures to improve land productivity. And most of them are very enthusiastic and look forward to it. All of them (where possible) want to dig well or lift water from ‘rivers’ / ‘Khadis’, install diesel or solar pumps to irrigate part of their lands and to undertake other land improvement measures like land leveling and farm bunding. They are also planning to grow fruit trees like mangoes and bamboo on the slopes of their titled lands.
Banks, which were till now not willing to give any loans, including crop loans to these farmers, are now coming forward and competing to woo these farmers to take loans from their banks and soon most of the families from these villages would start getting loans from the banks. Two Banks, Bank Of Baroda and Baroda Gujarat Gramin Bank have appointed 11 Bank Correspondents (Bank Mitra) for doing all bank transactions, including helping the people to apply for Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) at village level only, so the people would need not go to Block level for bank transactions.
Formation of Farmers Producer Organizations
ARCH, with help of NABARD, helped the tribal farmers of these villages form 5 Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO – cooperative societies), with about one FPO covering 1000 families, to sell their crops in large quantities at higher levels of the market, to obtain better prices and also to procure and provide farm inputs for the farmers at lower costs.
National Convention on FRA & Gramsabha Empowerment
Forest Rights Act completed 10 years since its enactment in December 2006. Our friends from Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini from Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra and UP had requested to organize this convention so that they and community leaders from their area could see, interact with us and the community leaders of Dediapada villages, so as to understand ARCH’s work in greater detail and to get motivated for taking this work forward in their own areas. About 400 participants participated in this 2 day convention, from which about 70 participants were from other states and rest from Dediapada villages.