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Kutch pastoralists claim grassland community rights under Forest Dwellers Act

RAJKOT: Pastoralists of Banni area of Kutch region in Gujarat have claimed community rights under 'The scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006' which was passed on December 18, 2006. The claim is over entireBanni grassland covering 2,400 sq km. 

Banni is known for its grasslands not only in India but also in Asia for its unique features. In 2010, 'Banni buffalo' was recognized as 11th buffalo breed of the country due to the collective efforts of Banni Pashu Uchchherak Maldhari Sangathan (BPUMS), state department of animal husbandry, Sardar Krushinagar Dantiwada Agricultural University and Sahjeevan along with other NGOs working with pastoral communities.

As the section 6 (1) of FRA suggests, it was decided to conduct gram sabhas in all the 53 villages of 19 panchayats of Banni. 

But before that, maha sabha was organized in Hodka office of BPUMS and Ramzan Isha Halepotra addressing the gathering said "our struggle for rights over Banni grassland started three years ago with the only goal of Banni Ko Banni Rahedo." 

In the year 1955, Banni was declared as forest land and since then no settlement has taken place. After the resolution was passed in all these villages, files were sent for further screening and approval at the level of the sub-division (or Taluka) and subsequently at the district level. 

The maha sabha was organized for developing consensus among Maldharies on the single claim of entire Banni grassland having around 2400 sq km area as Community Forest Rights under Forest Rights Act, 2006. 550 Maldhari representatives, FRC members, Sarpanch participated in this Banni mahasabha unanimously voted for the claim for entire Banni grassland for their rights on habitation, grazing, water resources, NTFP, traditional and intellectual knowledge, developmental needs like school, road, and medical facilities as well as their rights of management and conservation over Banni grassland. As the Act suggests that traditional forest dwelling communities including maldharis are entitled to their community rights, in this maha sabha by showing their agreement on the single claims form for entire Banni. They unanimously decided to approve the same and forwarded to all village gramsabha to give their consent. 

"The collective efforts have helped the FRA process to reach to the final stage where Banni will receive their community rights. It is a very important move by the pastoralist communities of Banni as this will protect Banni grasslands, traditional value of the region will be intact too'' said a community leader.

The Times of India (23-02-2014)