The Panchayat Raj (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, 1996 recognizes customary laws, and empowers the Gram Sabha to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity and community resources. Gram Sabhas also have the power to approve plans, programs and projects for social and economic development. The Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers( Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA), recognizes the powers of Gram Sabhas, to protect wildlife, forests, biodiversity, water bodies, cultural and natural heritage of adivasi peoples. Their consent is mandatory before diversion of forests. The two legislations compliment each other in respecting the power of adivasi governance for decentralized democracy at the village level. Despite these strong constitutional safeguards, development plans and projects continue to be unilaterally implemented by the State in adivasi areas, undermining adivasi governance.
Yakshi facilitates capacity building programs with adivasi peoples to assert their rights to Forests and Forest resources and played a critical role in campaigning for the Forest Rights Act since 2002. We translated and widely disseminated the FRA and its rules in Telugu and developed a guide book for implementation of the law. Yakshi trained Adivasi Forest Rights Committee members in over 950 villages across adivasi areas of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Till March 2013, 20000 individual claims were filed by adivasi community organisations in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, of which 13,807 claims were approved. 387 community claims according to customary boundaries were filed, however not a single community forest title has been granted. Community forest titles awarded to VSS, were unilaterally rejected, through Gram Sabha resolutions.
We are currently involved in an in-depth inquiry on the implementation and implications of FRA in Adivasi territories of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.