Empowering Tribal People, Deepening Democracy

The Scheduled Tribes constitute nearly 1.45 percent of Kerala’s population. However, their human development indicators are significantly lower than those of the mainstream population. Their female literacy rate is nearly 36 percent lower than that of the state as a whole. Poverty among them is nearly 2.5 times higher than that of the rural population. This reflects their inadequate access to resources considering their spatial settlements in forests, their socio-cultural specificities, and historical deprivation.

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An Advocacy Note for Strengthening Local Governments for the Effective Implementation of the Forest Rights Act in Kerala


This advocacy note attempts to collectively think of the ways in which focused change can be brought about at multiple levels to transform local democracy in Kerala to enable local governments to become effective vehicles of implementing the FRA within the state. The Scheduled Tribes constitute nearly 1.45 percent of the population in Kerala. However, their human development indicators are significantly lower than those of the mainstream population. Their female literacy rate is nearly 36 percent lower than that of the state as a whole1. Poverty among them is nearly 2.5 times higher than that of the rural population. This reflects their inadequate access to resources considering their spatial settlements in forests, their socio-cultural specificities, and historical deprivation.

In 2000, nearly 37 percent of tribal households in the state were found to be landless. Though there were efforts to distribute land to them, either these lands were not substantially cultivable, or such efforts were torpedoed using the laws meant for forest conservation. Even when they were provided land, it was transferred to or effectively controlled by the non-tribal population. Moreover, their access to forests (to gather non-timber forest products) declined significantly as forest conservation measures were increasingly tightened. In summary, the much-talked-about human development achievements of Kerala have by and large bypassed its tribal population2.

It is in this context that the potential of the Forest Rights Act (or the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006) for improving the living conditions of scheduled tribes needs to be explored. There are indications based on the experience in other states or localities where it has been implemented sincerely (with the participation of non-governmental partners), that it has the potential to improve the quality of life of these people significantly3. However, the implementation of the Act has not moved much in a number of states, including Kerala. As noted by Sudheesh (2013) while the process prescribed by the Forest Rights Act has the potential to create new spaces for participation, most of these spaces remain closed’ mainly due to the narrowly construed ideas of people’s participation’ (also, Kjosavik and Shanmugharatnam 2015).

Kerala is marked by very limited action in terms of community forest rights4 though it has distributed around 37000 individual titles to tribal households. Wherever such community rights are granted, it has been only for small stretches of land (2 to 40 acres); this ignores the evidence that these communities have traditionally been using a much larger area for the collection of forest products5. Moreover, the Forest Department continues to have a mediating role in the collection and sale of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP). The official position of the Government of Kerala, as reported to the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, Government of India, is that the implementation of the FRA requires more time because of the need for manual survey due to the density of forests in the state. More recent studies indicate precarious but significant difference that even limited implementation of FRA has brought to the Kadar tribal people in the Malakkapara area (Kalathingal 2019).

Kerala is also known for its sincere and successful efforts towards the decentralization of governance and also for the drive towards democratizing development through the People’s Planning Campaign. There were provisions in this program for decentralization to allocate resources specifically for the development and participation of the Scheduled Tribes. These are in addition to the welfare programs directly managed by the state government through its Department for Tribal Welfare.

Despite all these, the deprivation and ill-fare of the tribal population of Kerala persist. Since the 1990s, we have seen persistent struggles by sections of the tribal population to secure land, most of which did not yield substantial gains. The real benefits of decentralization and the reservation of seats in elected panchayats are yet to be derived by the Scheduled Tribes in the state (Surjith 2015). There are structural challenges in the way of tribal peoples’ welfare. The distribution of tribal settlements in the state may create a situation where they may not have a significant presence in any one panchayat. Many of the stories of tribal deprivation reported in the Malayalam press – prominently, that of infant deaths in the Attappady area – point to issues the solutions of which are fully within the remit of local bodies but remain sadly unresolved.

Even when the tribal population is substantial in specific wards or panchayats, non-tribals may dominate the decision-making process considering the educational and development gap between them and the tribal peoples. Further, tribal groups vary in their access to power and resources; those among them with access to land, who are settled agriculturists, may have much better access to power and resources available through the decentralization than those who depend on the forests; the nomadic populations among them may get marginalized further6. A recent study on the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) of Kerala confirms this. It argues that close to 95 per cent of the PVTG families are multi-dimensionally poor (Abhilash 2017: 94). Hence, the experience so far indicates that the panchayats in Kerala have a long way to go in addressing the issues of tribal populations.

It is in this context that we try to consider the ways in which the local governments in tribal areas may transform themselves into bodies that facilitate democratic governance among tribal peoples, thus truly empowering them. As mentioned above, both the available research literature and ongoing public discussions indicate that decentralization has not yet become meaningful for the tribal peoples of Kerala except as a further extension of their long history of subjugation under bureaucratic modernity.

Political decentralization in Kerala was also accompanied by the widespread establishment of participatory welfare systems. The network of NHGs throughout the state in the late 1990s and the early years of the new millennium effectively democratized the distribution of welfare to a much greater extent than before. This was achieved by limiting and humanizing bureaucratic control mechanisms at the local level, for example, by limiting and redefining the powers of the officials. However, this achievement was largely in non-tribal areas. The persistence of bureaucratic controls and deeply dehumanizing power structures in tribal areas remained either ignored or unnoticed since they are a powerless minority in the state.

The significance of the FRA implementation in Kerala, therefore, can hardly be underestimated. In this advocacy-note, we seek to reflect collectively on the possibility of transforming Kerala’s framework of decentralization and people-centred development into enabling spaces for our tribal communities. In short, we try to re-imagine them as institutions that will support the effective implementation of the FRA in Kerala.

Local governments have indeed been involved in the implementation of the FRA. For instance, though there are efforts to use the gramasabhas—locally known as Oorukoottam–of tribal peoples for distribution of welfare measures, these are yet to play a significant role in the implementation of the FRA as expected in the Act. Thus, there is a need to strengthen (possibly redesign in certain instances) the Panchayati Raj institutions to make these effective for the implementation of the FRA.

The objective of this advocacy note is to make an assessment of the situation in this regard and suggest possible changes in rules and procedures for this purpose. It is based on wider consultations with different stakeholders. Three consultative meetings were held: First was with organizations like Kudumbasree which has a connection with the tribal settlements; there was then a consultation with government officials (both in-service and retired) including those from the Forest Department; thirdly, there was a meeting of the non-governmental and civil society organizations involved in tribal welfare. Some of these are directly involved in the efforts to implement the FRA in the state. In addition, the researchers of this initiative have also visited selected tribal settlements and interviewed the elders/​leaders to know their perspective on the implementation of the FRA.

Strengthening Local Democracy for the Empowerment of Tribal peoples through FRA

In our discussions and interviews, the following points emerged as the broad conditions for the strengthening of local democracy through and for tribal peoples in Kerala:

  1. The full recognition of tribal people as a developmental minority with special interests and claims on the state. This does not preclude the recognition of their internal diversity in livelihoods, lifestyles, cultural aspirations, skills, and goals, as well as the fact of the presence of internal hierarchies and inequalities within the tribal population.
  2. The full recognition that the tribal people are ethnic groups, and are not reducible into the lower tiers of the caste system, that their cultures are unique and outside the order of caste, even though they are oppressed by and discriminated against by people who live within the order of caste.
  3. The explicit acknowledgement by the political, cultural, and developmental mainstream of the unique and valuable capabilities that forest-dwelling and agriculturist tribal communities have possessed, and their significance in a post-disaster scenario.
  4. The clear admission of the tribal communities’ rights over minor forest produce and free and unfettered access into a significant area of forest space.
  5. A firm commitment towards the fostering of an active and critical civil society from the tribal communities, the voices of which would engage critically, directly, and on equal terms with all external agents including the different departmental bureaucracies.
  6. A firm commitment towards adequate voice for different tribal communities in all government machinery relevant to them over and above statutory reservations.
  7. Strong support for the promotion of tribal cultures and languages, especially making available all development-related discourse relevant to them, and the conduct of FRA gramasabhas in their own languages, with the clear understanding that culture is not unchangeable – that much of it was invented’ in colonial times and for the purposes of colonial control, and that emergent cultural change must be respected.
  8. The commitment to subjecting all planned interventions in tribal communities to deliberation in FRA gramasabhas since excluding native wisdom from the operation of supply chains originating in the forests (e.g. medicinal or other NTFPs) undermines forest biodiversity and makes the resultant economic models unsustainable in the medium to long term. In the process, knowledge and skills are taken away from the people; they also remain undocumented and unanalysed. Thus, any intervention, whether for conservation or for livelihood generation as part of the Act, needs deliberations in the FRA gramasabhas, based on their social-ecological ethos.

However, it was also widely admitted by all, including those who put forward the above suggestion for a fundamental revision, that besides the practical difficulties in the implementation of the above, the generation of necessary and sufficient social willingness and political for it will take time and effort, especially in the settler-dominated forest-fringe and areas in the highland districts. The suggestions for strengthening local democracy for effective FRA implementation in the short run were:

  1. The campaign mode that ensured the success of People’s Planning in the 1990s could be revised and re-launched with the specific aim of promoting the FRA and encouraging genuine interest in it among the existing local governments in areas where tribal populations are significantly large. This could be the starting point of a much longer process of the transformation of local governments into active facilitators of the FRA.
  2. A template for the implementation of the FRA drawn using the experiences of other regions where the FRA has been successfully implemented needs to be created. The active involvement of civil-social agencies that made it possible in those other regions needs to be ensured for this campaign as facilitators and monitoring agencies.
  3. This campaign, however, should highlight tribal people as rights-bearing, knowledge-bearing, green citizens’ and should eschew the usual stress on tribal people as needy and passive beneficiaries. In other words, it should emphasize the strengths of these communities and in the process, refute dominant stereotypes that contribute to marginalizing, trivializing, and infantilizing tribal people. For example, the common objection to the FRA, that the tribal people are inevitably captured by vested interests, is a stereotype that needs to be unpacked and exposed. Or, the usual manner in which the reality of the high predominance of alcoholism and social alienation among the tribal people is read as evidence for their incompetence should be rejected as prejudice and replaced by an analysis that makes sense of these as the fall-outs of their extreme disempowerment in history, which can be remedied only through substantial empowerment.
  4. The knowledge-generation about the community as part of the campaign should depart from the usual objectifying survey methodology and instead deploy vibrant participatory tools that encourage the generation of narratives from below, to map the diversity of knowledge, skills, interests, goals, needs, and resources in each tribal community.
  5. The knowledge-generation in the campaign should not be a mapping exercise to extract tribal knowledges for the benefit of the developmental majority; it should be explicitly projected as intended to empower the tribal communities by acknowledging and remedying the historical wrongs and denials they have had to suffer at the hands of the development-focussed majority.
  6. The campaign should involve the production of ample and useful material about the FRA, PESA; the rights granted to citizens by the Indian Constitution in tribal languages, and; all public discussions on these conducted as part of the campaign in tribal communities must necessarily be in the local language(s). This will, of course, require the mass mobilization of educated tribal youth – who, happily, is no longer a rarity in Kerala – as managers, translators, and trainers.
  7. Multiple forums at the level of the local government and sustained mass media publicity, taking leaders of the Malayalam media into confidence, must be organized for discussion on and dissemination of information on FRA that goes beyond mere training and reaches out to the whole network of civil-social organizations, including those of the mainstream communities to avoid misinformation and panic reactions.
  8. Training on FRA for the departments of Forest and Scheduled Tribe Development must be made mandatory for ground-level officials and seniors alike, as part of the campaign. The training should be imparted by a team of senior researchers, retired bureaucrats, and well-known activists from areas where the FRA’s successes are more apparent. Trainings should also necessarily include face-to-face and informal interactions between officials and campaign participants from tribal communities, so that the old colonial hierarchies, as well as the accumulated effects of the reduction of tribal peoples to data points, are mitigated.
  9. FRA committee members, as officials, should receive adequate training to maintain minutes, map community rights, and deal with the day-to-day work of handling complaints, correcting errors, making additions, and transferring rights. Secondly, it is necessary to institutionalize the FRA committees properly, since the Act clearly says that the members are public officials – they must be provided with the Minutes book, seed money, essential furniture, and other necessities to enable the committees to persist and become institutionalized. This would also help to ensure that the FRA gramasabhas are called regularly.
  10. The campaign should culminate in the formation of FRA gramasabhas and committees at all levels throughout Kerala and in the creation of common forum (separate from the State Monitoring Committee) which should meet at regular intervals to identify issues, share experience, and assess the general situation. It may also host an e‑platform on which members of these institutions all over Kerala may network freely.
  11. The campaign could also involve the formation of committees of representatives from the FRA gramasabhas and committees at different levels to work with the Forest Department and the Department of Scheduled Tribe Development in decision-making on a range of issues pertinent to tribal communities, from conservation to welfare distribution. Crucially, the campaign should explicitly involve measures to end the exploitation of tribal employees in the lower tiers of the Forest Department.
  12. The campaign may also highlight available provisions in the Panchayati Raj Act for autonomous decision-making by tribal peoples. This may be useful to wear down resistance in places where non-tribal populations may display a high degree of suspicion towards FRA implementation.
  13. Such a campaign cannot be limited to tribal areas or forest fringes. It is necessary to include concrete steps to integrate the knowledge of the tribal people into the mainstream curriculum. And this needs to be done in the spirit of complete reciprocity. In the present, the tribal people are forced to learn Malayalam and if one takes into consideration the enormous knowledge of ecologically sustainable survival that the tribal peoples possess, the present-day tribal education is a shockingly undemocratic and disrespectful one-way traffic. The campaign should include active efforts to devise special courses in ecological survival devised from tribal people’s knowledge and by tribal authors (individuals or groups) for mainstream schooling in Kerala as well as materials that introduce students to tribal peoples’ languages and the rich tapestry of myths, songs, and dances. The first could be devised as special mandatory courses for schools, and the latter, as certificate courses for college students, from which a fixed number must be made mandatory for the completion of the degree course. The instructors at the college level must, as far as possible, be drawn from a pool of tribal resource persons.
  14. The post of the Tribal Extension Officer (TEO), presently, is usually occupied by persons who are not motivated in any serious way about the welfare of the tribal people, and who often harbour the worst prejudices about them that have been circulating in Kerala over many decades. At present, any degree-level qualification is sufficient for application to the post. In order to change this, the interview boards for recruitment of TEOs must include expert members’ drawn from a pool of FRA committee members and other FRA activists. The TEO must be a post-graduate in the discipline of social work, or sociology and the officer must undergo a specially devised intensive training that exposes them to the differences of tribal community life. At present, this post largely seems to be a promotion post, which will be filled by lower division clerks through career promotion.

A successful campaign culminating in a governance system that involves the tribal people, however, can only be a start. The following recommendations were made by participants in our discussions and interviewees:

  1. It was pointed out that strengthening local government for FRA implementation must not focus solely on the elected panchayat committees. Historically, not just the oppression suffered by tribal communities, but also their lack of demographic clout has been responsible for their neglect by elected committees. In other words, the neglect of tribal communities by local government is also a result of the first-past-the-post electoral system in which cornering the larger number of votes is the sole key to power. The need for a different system of electoral representation in which members from FRA committees have a special status/​standing that enables working with, rather than working under, the elected committee seems obvious. This could be similar to the present power and status enjoyed by the Kudumbashree CDS Chairperson, but not the same. In our discussions, several participants pointed out the need to ensure that the tribal people receive a fair share of, and the same benefit as the general spending by the local government and spending on them is not restricted to the special funds for them. This calls for perhaps not just setting up FRA gramasabhas through democratic and transparent ways and by devising procedures for meetings and decision-making that tribal peoples can relate with, but also making sure that members/​leaders of the FRA committees have a definite say in the spending of general funds. Also, making available gramasabha minutes and other documents of local governments in panchayats with a certain minimum number of tribal people in tribal languages must be made mandatory.
  2. The success of Panchayati Raj in Kerala is also equally an achievement of the development civil society’ that was built around it through the vast network of women’s self-help groups under the aegis of the Kerala State Poverty Alleviation Mission in the early years of the new millennium, popularly referred to as the Kudumbashree Mission (KS). There are other state programs in Kerala that have supported local-level democracy through training, notably, the Kerala Mahila Samakhya (KMS) society, which works now exclusively among tribal communities. Both these are active at present in livelihood enhancement, educational support, and trainings. The KS and KMS already have success stories to share regarding improving the livelihoods of tribal peoples who are forest-dwellers, especially in the gathering and marketing of minor forest produce (though these initiatives were often throttled by the lower-level functionaries of the Forest and Tribal Development departments). The KS has formed exclusive groups of tribal women and the KMS works extensively with them too, helping them to deal with officials of the Forest and Tribal Development. The possibilities of the KS and KMS working with tribal communities to foster a development civil society that does not violate their cultural ethos and priorities could be explored earnestly.
  3. Several participants in our discussion, as well as our interviewees, gave many illuminating examples of how parallel bodies like the Vana Samrakashana Samitis and Eco-Development Societies now pose serious hurdles in the path of FRA implementation. The possibility of joining together the KS neighbourhood groups into the FRA gramasabha wherever it has not yet been formed needs to be explored. However, this does not mean that the KS and the KMS need no transformation as agents of change in tribal areas. The KS has to clearly recognize the fact that their strategy of individualizing welfare which had such great success in non-tribal areas may not be either adequate or appropriate for many tribal areas. The participants from KS pointed out that in the tribal areas their focus was on collective, not individual rights. How that focus may be strengthened is key: the success of FRA community rights in Kerala will depend on entering into an equal partnership with specific tribal communities over the collection, processing, and marketing of forest produce that will help them bypass middlemen of all sorts. The KS will also have to give up the common dichotomy between culture and the economy in mainstream development discourse. The KMS too will have to shift towards offering training in and producing training materials in tribal languages, and this will require drawing into it a large number of educated tribal youth, particularly young women.
  4. As the Act will impart new rights for individual farming in the forest peripheries, communities could face a dilemma – in individualizing and commercializing the collective ethos of a tribe. Many tribal communities remain cohesive enough to undertake many, if not most, farming decisions and operations in a collective fashion. Nutritional security of the communities will organically emerge as the goal if they start charting their ways of farming and foraging. Their nutritional and livelihood security lies in ecological resilience. If this realization is not part of local institutions in FRA gramasabhas and committees, despite having a say in local governance, they might be in the same (or still worse) plight as other farmers in the country, reeling under distress. This has been recognized by tribal communities wherever they could chart their own developmental path.
  5. Activists and researchers who participated in our discussions laid stress on the role played by NGOs and social movements in raising awareness about and exerting pressure for the implementation of FRA in Kerala and other Indian states. The success of Community Forest Rights Management Committee at Malakkappara and Vazhachaal in claiming rights with NGOs playing a key role in the mapping of eight Kadar (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, PVTGs) — settlements in the area was discussed. The NGO also played a key role in empowering the FRA gramasabhas, the sub-divisional level committee and the district-level committee through providing information on the FRA’s potential for positive change. Representatives from the Vazhachal-Malakkappara hamlets spoke of their struggles with the Forest and Scheduled Tribe departments in the FRA process and acknowledged the role of NGOs in facilitating it, and also mentioned the positive, enabling effect that their example had on many neighbouring tribal hamlets who were thereby encouraged to form their own gramasabhas and Forest Rights Committees.
  6. In order to ensure that the voices of the tribal people are heard and taken seriously in decision-making circles of all departments relevant to them, there is the need to build special forums. The Common Forest Management Plans produced by the Forest Rights Committees of the FRA gramasabha must be built into the plans of the Forest Department. As mentioned before, the FRA committees must be granted a standing/​presence vis-à-vis the elected committee of the Panchayat. A committee created from a state-wide network of FRA committees (besides the state-wide monitoring committee) could advise and scrutinize the plans and functioning of the Department of Scheduled Tribe Development. Ample tribal presence and voice should be also ensured in all committees on ecological issues pertaining to the Western Ghats.
  7. As Abhilash T, a leading researcher on PVTGs in Kerala pointed out from his discussions with community members, it seems essential to implement a common price mechanism across the state as far as NTFP is concerned, it being the most valuable economic resource of PVTGs. Such a mechanism is absent now. Bamboo has still not been included in the NTFP list in Kerala; this must be rectified immediately. The experience of other states shows that such a categorisation is hugely important for getting the expected benefits of FRA to the tribal population. Besides, the overarching role of the Forest Department in procurement and wholesaling the products must be re-evaluated. These facts show the entire mechanism of NTFP procurement and sale in the state — especially in the southern district — needs to be restructured in line with the needs of the community. These and other goals mentioned above cannot be reached by merely aligning the Kerala Panchayati Raj Act with the FRA. For example, the by-laws of the Department of Forests must be urgently amended to align it with the FRA. At present, the Department of Forests functions as the appellate body for the Vana Samrakshana Samitis and the Eco-Development Committees etc. So also, the Cooperative Societies Act will have to be amended. When the management of the community forest rights begins to be undertaken by a federation of CFR management committees of the FRA gramasabhas, then an institutional arrangement will be necessary for signing agreements, MOUs, etc. especially in the process of procuring forest products. The campaign mentioned above should facilitate all of this.
  8. Finally, a tribunal could be established for FRA implementation so that justiciable issues can be brought before it similar to the local governments (LGs). It was pointed out that currently, the tier-system was often ineffective simply because it was set up precisely to fail. Tribal affairs were often handled by officers of the Indian Forest Service, which was well-likely to work against them.

Next Steps

1. The campaign should rest on a credible and useful body of knowledge and a clear, crisp template, which should be presented through a handbook. The handbook should be produced in and through specific exercises:

  • There has to be a proper definition for the Rights’ – Individual Forest Rights (IFR), Community Forest Rights (CFR) and Development Rights. A consensus can be arrived at if a write-shop’ of departments, Tribal Leaders, NGO activists from the State, researchers, invitees from KIRTADS and the rest of the country, and the concerned officials of the Government of India can come together to develop clear definitions with reference to orders and regulations of other states and case studies and develop a clear definition. They can also develop the protocols on processes and procedures and indicate acceptable evidence.
  • The content of the handbook should also draw upon the existing experiences and views of the tribal people communities who enjoy the benefits of the FRA. A short research exercise focusing on particular communities where FRA has been successfully implemented – especially Malakkappara – which will collect narratives and experiences at the practical level – should be undertaken by a team of researchers from interested universities and research centres.
  • The handbook should draw upon the outputs from (a) and (b) and could be produced in a workshop held at KILA or CDS, where all involved in these exercises could converge again. This handbook must be made available in all tribal languages. Also, a separate version of the handbook for training officials should be made available.

2. The second step would be the creation of local Facilitation Teams’ consisting of highly-trained Community Resource Persons from among the tribal communities. These resource persons could include students of Law, social work, etc., and activists of accredited NGOs with experience in the implementation of FRA. Tribal promoters and middle-level officers of tribal and forest departments could work with the Facilitation Teams.

3. Drawn mostly from among the tribal people, the Facilitation Teams must be brought together to brainstorm to devise appropriate modes of communication for the circulation of the materials in the handbook that are acceptable to the tribal peoples and do not repeat the mistakes of the currently existing modes of communication in local governance.

4. The first step of the campaign, undertaken by the Facilitation Teams, should be careful and detailed documentation of community rights enjoyed historically by different tribal groups, with the aim of capturing their nature, scope, and diversity in a rigorous manner.

5. Concurrently, a study preferably by an expert agency like IRMA, with the help of FRA activists with experience in Kerala, and researchers on FRA in Kerala from tribal communities, could be done on NTFP collection to bring about transparency, efficiency, value addition and improved marketing including branding.

6. Based on the knowledge generated by (4) and (5), and the handbook, and using modes of communication suggested in the consultation with the Facilitation Team, comprehensive training should be offered to the Oorukoottams, and the process of FRA gramasabha meetings, committee formation, and the institutionalization of the committees should be undertaken in quick and time-bound steps.

7. Simultaneously, training for officials in the Scheduled Tribe and forest departments should also be offered. This could be done simultaneously with the necessary amendments to the by-laws etc. and the procedures to bring existing arrangements such as the Vana Samrakshana Samitis, Eco-Development Committees etc. under the FRA gramasabhas.

8. There has to be an exclusive Tribal Kudumbashree’ with independent SHG, ADS, CDS, of course, linked to the Kudumbashree system at the District level. The KMS too must be redesigned for tribal areas, staffed by tribal women and with mechanisms for decision-making involving the active participation of empowered women members of the FRA gramasabhas and committees.

9. After the setting up of FRA committees throughout Kerala, intensive training in basic minutes-writing and other official duties, as well as dealing with the day-to-day issues of FRA implementation must be offered to the members of these committees, with a strong emphasis of their role as public officials.

10. A small contingency grant should be provided to each Oorukoottam in the state to buy office furniture and other equipment to help them in documenting the process and procedures they are undertaking. Such initiatives have substantially helped Kani tribal communities in Thiruvananthapuram districts. It will also help the community to further the institutionalization of FRA at the Oorukoottam.

11. The committees could then file appeals/​reviews duly, supported by the Facilitation Teams.

12. Concurrent social audit has to be done by credible individuals and organizations and their feedback given to the district and state-level committees. In addition to the State Level Committee, a Coordination Committee could be drawn up from the FRA committees. This Committee should meet at regular intervals and sort out operational problems. A Help Desk should be set up jointly manned by senior officers of the Forest and Tribal Departments along with professional NGO representatives to issue clarifications.

13. A state-level workshop of writers and other experts should be set up to devise lessons/​modules/​courses based on the knowledge-generation in the earlier steps and conducted alongside the above steps.

14. Knowledge generation and monitoring should continue actively in the post-FRA implementation phase as well. For example, community forest management processes need to be validated on the ground. This requires action research in selected localities so that the deep ecology of tribal livelihoods is brought out in a practical form. For habitat development, participatory planning through the FRA Oorukoottam is required. The MGNREGS has huge potential for both eco-development and creation of livelihood assets besides giving additional cash income to the poor. Also, social development focusing on harmful and wasteful habits like alcoholism is of special relevance. Service delivery through public institutions, especially Anganwadis, schools, hostels and hospitals, need special emphasis.


Abhilash, T. 2017. Socio-economic Inclusion of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups in Kerala: A Case Study of Kattunaikan, Cholanaikan, Kurumba, Kadar, and Koraga Communities’, Unpublished monograph.

Bijoy, C.R. and Raman, K. R. 2003. Muthanga: The Real Story’, Economic and Political Weekly, 38, 20, 1975- 1982.

Bachan, Amitha K A. 2019. The Historical Injustice to the Forest-Dwelling Community Continued: The Process, Performance, and Major Violations in the One Decade of Implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 in Kerala’, Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation, Mathilakam, Thrissur.

Chemmencheri S. R. 2013. Decentralisation, Participation and Boundaries of Transformation: Forest Rights Act, Wayanad, India. Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance 12, 51 – 68.

Forest Rights Act, 2006: Acts, Rules, Guidelines. https://​trib​al​.nic​.in/​F​R​A​/​d​a​t​a​/​F​R​A​R​u​l​e​s​B​o​o​k.pdf, accessed 29 November 2019.

Kalathingal, Divya. 2018. Tribal peoples Kudiyirakkalaayi Maarunna Swayamsannadha Punaradhiwaasa Paddhathi’ (The Project of Voluntary Rehabilitation that is Turning into the Eviction of Tribal Peoples), Keraleeyam, January, 34 – 39.

— 2019. Conservation — A Contested Story: The State and Kadar Tribal Adivasis, India’, Law, Environment, and Development Journal 150, 1 – 19.

Kjosavik, Darley J. 2010. Politicising Development: Re-Imagining Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights and Identities in Highland Kerala, South India’, Forum for Development Studies, 37, 2, 243 – 68.

Kjosavik, Darley J and N. Shanmugharatnam. 2004. Integration or Exclusion? Locating Indigenous Peoples in the Development Process of Kerala, South India’, Forum for Development Studies 31,2, 231 – 73.

— 2015. Political Economy of Development in India: Indigeneity in Transition in the State of Kerala, New York and London: Routledge.

Surjith, M. 2015. Democratic Decentralization and the Marginalised: The case of Scheduled Tribes in Kerala’, KILA Journal of Local Governance, 2, 1, 25 – 32.


Collaboratively written by Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum and Azim Premji University, Bangalore

  1. Government of India (2008) Kerala State Development Report, Planning Commission, Delhi.↩︎

  2. For historical reviews of policies aimed at tribal peoples in Kerala, see Kjosavik and Shanmugharatnam 2004; Chemmencheri 2013.↩︎

  3. The Implementation of `Forest Rights Act’: Towards an informed collective action by different stakeholders – a report prepared by the Azim Premji University as part of its University Practice Connect initiative.↩︎

  4. One account in 2018 says that out of the 1395 applications for CFR in Kerala, 164 have been granted; another report by a local NGO notes in 2017 that 16 percent of the claims under CFR have been accepted. Promise and Performance of Forest Rights Act, 2006: Kerala State Report by Community Forest Rights Learning and Advocacy↩︎

  5. This is noted by KH Amitha Bachan in a recent report. Disappointment with the progress of FRA implementation was recorded in the early years too. See Bijoy 2009. For a later analysis, see Chemmencheri 2013↩︎

  6. For example, Paniyan is the largest tribal groups in Wayanad and they constitute 45 percent of the tribal population in the district. However, only around 10 percent of the tribal elected members are from the Paniyan tribe (Surjith, 2015). This has also shaped the contours of tribal people’s mobilization around land, especially in Wayanad. See Kjosavik 2010.↩︎