Bihar Election: Forest Rights Act to be a key issue in 62 Bihar constituencies

Implementation of the provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) could affect the political outcome in 62 out of 243 assembly segments in the upcoming Bihar election, an analysis by independent researchers in collaboration with civil society organization Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini.

The analysis has relied on the Election Commission data of the 2015 election results, and the assembly-wise FRA potential based on the 2011 Census data.

The BJP and JD(U) remain vulnerable because in the past 13 years and three consecutive terms, they have done little to enforce and FRA, the analysis showed.

The analysis said that in the last election, the BJP had lost 20 seats which had high FRA potential. In the last election, Mahagathbandhan had an edge in almost 70 percent of FRA potential assembly constituencies, it said. However, with coalitions changing in this upcoming election, the political outcomes of the 62 constituencies spread over 11 districts are likely to vary, it said.

The 62 constituencies include 12 scheduled caste seats and 1 scheduled tribe seat.

With Bihar’s high rate of rejection claims under FRA as documented by figures collated by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, previous governments have failed to raise the issue of landlessness and implementation of FRA.

“Sixty two high potential FRA constituencies are about 26 percent of the total constituencies. They have the potential for FRA implementation because of the substantial  Dalit and Adivasi population dependent on forests. But the forest rights issues of SC/ST voters in these constituencies have been systematically ignored. It will not be an overstatement to say that the state government has been negligent in recognizing forest rights of communities under FRA,” said independent legal researcher Puja — one of the contributors to the analysis, reports Indian Express.

The major FRA issues which have arisen in the high potential constituencies are political apathy in terms of implementation of FRA, attempts of an eviction and forced plantation by the state forest department, violation of due process in the state government’s review process, and atrocities committed on tribal people, the analysis noted.

Political parties should recognize the importance of individual forest rights and community forest rights under FRA to deal with food security concerns and livelihood opportunities, the study recommended. The pandemic has further marginalized the communities, it said.

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