From DISHA we support and assist forest-dependent communities in securing their forest rights. Recognition of such rights holds the key to ensuring the habitat and livelihood security of traditional forest dwellers. It also plays a crucial role in ensuring the conservation of forests and the preservation of the bio-diversity of vulnerable forest ecosystems.
- We have been working on forest rights-related issues since 2004. In April 2005, we co-organised a Public Hearing at Rajabhatkhawa, Buxa Tiger Reserve on the difficulties faced by the forest dwellers of North Bengal. Based on what we learned, we published a booklet titled ‘Plight of the Forest People (Buxa Tiger Reserve)’ in the same month.
- Since the enactment of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (the Forest Rights Act or FRA), we have been providing community-level support and assistance to ensure its effective implementation in West Bengal.
- Since 2005, we are working on the issue of livelihood protection of traditional fishers of the Sundarban mangrove forests. These communities depend on fishing and honey gathering for their survival and sustenance. We continue to work towards the protection of their livelihoods and for the protection and conservation of the vulnerable ecology of the Sundarban forests. We regularly conduct a host of meetings, interfaces, workshops, training sessions, narrative-sharing sessions, etc. with the forest-dependent communities there.
- We have conducted and facilitated several studies on the ecology of Sundarban forests and on the livelihood of the traditional fishing communities who depend on these forests for their survival and sustenance. During 2008-2009, we conducted a study on the livelihood practices of the traditional fishing communities in the Sundarban Tiger Reserve and published our findings in 2009. Again, in 2014, we studied the livelihood conditions of the fishing communities of the Sundarban forests. The report of this study was published in the same year by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers.
- Since 2016, we have been actively campaigning for the right to compensation and insurance for the dependent family members of tiger-attack victims in the fishing community of the Sundarban. Our initiative, the Tiger Widows Support Centre, has been functional in the Gosaba block of the Sundarban in this regard. We are providing support in terms of livelihood training in livestock rearing, forest maintenance, sustainable agricultural practices, etc. to such dependent family members, especially to widows of the tiger-attack victims among the fishworkers of the Sundarban forests.
- Since 2018, we are working on the issue of implementation of the Forest Rights Act among forest-dependent communities in the western part of West Bengal, namely in the Jangal Mahal region, covering the districts of Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Purulia, and Birbhum.
- In September 2020, we prepared and released an interim status report on the implementation of the FRA in 172 villages in Nayagram Block of Jhargram district both in English and Bengali. On 17th October 2020, following the release of the report, we hosted a Webinar presenting the findings of the Survey, seeking comments and brainstorming with forest rights activists from West Bengal and other states of India who had attended.
- In recent years, we have stepped up our efforts towards awareness generation and capacity building among the traditional forest dwellers to enable them to secure their forest rights per the law. With this objective in focus, we continue to assist and empower forest-dependent and forest-dwelling communities in securing their rights under the FRA in the seven western districts of West Bengal as mentioned above.
- We assist them in mapping their community forest resources and assist them with approaching Government authorities empowered to process and verify the claims and register their claim over forest land.
An interim status report on implementation of the FRA in 172 villages in Nayagram Block of Jhargram district has been prepared in September 2020. The report and the English and Bengali versions of the Executive Summary have been released. DISHA is continuing its efforts to develop awareness and capacity among the forest dwellers so that they can establish their rights in accordance with law.