Habitat Rights Granted to Baiga Tribal Group

In the lead-up to the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, significant progress has been made in recognizing habitat rights for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in the state. The Baiga PVTG has become the second group to receive habitat rights, following the Kamar PVTG. These rights provide PVTGs with authority over their traditional habitats, preserving their socio-cultural practices, livelihoods, and knowledge of biodiversity.

What Are Habitat Rights?

Habitat rights recognition empowers vulnerable tribal communities by granting them rights over their customary territories, socio-cultural practices, livelihoods, and traditional knowledge of natural resources. This includes the protection and conservation of their natural and cultural heritage. Habitat rights are instrumental in preserving traditional livelihoods and ecological knowledge passed down through generations.

Legal Basis for Habitat Rights

Habitat rights are provided to PVTGs under Section 3(1)(e) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA). According to Section 2(h) of FRA, “habitat” encompasses customary habitats in reserved forests, protected forests of primitive tribal groups, and other forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes.

Utilization to Protect Habitats

Habitat rights offer PVTGs the means to safeguard their habitats from potentially harmful developmental activities. While these rights may not grant ownership titles, they require the consent and consultation of the gram sabha (village assembly) for any development activities. Habitat rights provide an additional layer of legal protection under various laws, including the Forest Conservation Act, the Land Acquisition law of 2013, and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

Identification of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs identifies PVTGs as tribal communities that are technologically backward, with low literacy rates, stagnant or declining population growth, and subsistence-level economies. These groups often inhabit isolated, remote, and challenging areas.

Status of Habitat Rights Across India

Out of the 75 PVTGs recognized by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, only three have been granted habitat rights. The Bharia PVTG in Madhya Pradesh was the first, followed by the Kamar tribe and now the Baiga tribe in Chhattisgarh.

Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups in Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh is home to seven PVTGs, residing in 17 of the state’s 33 districts. These tribes include Kamar, Baiga, Pahadi Korba, Abujhmadiya, Birhor, Pando, and Bhujia. While the central government designates the first five tribes as PVTGs, the state government confers the status on Pando and Bhujia.

Process of Defining Habitats

Habitats are determined through a consultative process involving four state-level departments: Forest, Revenue, Tribal, and Panchayati Raj. Tribal leaders from the respective communities are consulted to ascertain the extent of their cultural traditions, occupations, and practices. This is corroborated by the government before officially declaring a habitat.

Initiating the Habitat Rights Procedure in Chhattisgarh

The process of granting habitat rights to PVTGs in Chhattisgarh began with the Kamar tribe as a pilot project in December 2021. It is a meticulous and time-consuming procedure that requires building rapport with the introverted and reserved PVTGs. The pilot project laid the foundation for expediting the process in the future.

Number of PVTGs with Habitat Rights

As of now, 22 Para/Tola (hamlets) with a population of approximately 2,500 people from the Kamar tribe and 6,483 individuals from the Baiga tribe have been granted habitat rights. The process of recognizing habitat rights continues to evolve, providing these vulnerable tribal communities with legal protection and a voice in decisions affecting their traditional habitats.



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