The political agenda of implementing Forest Rights Act 2006: evidences from Indian Sundarban

  • Amrita SenEmail author
  • Sarmistha Pattanaik


The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (FRA) is a landmark statutory law which aims to grant ownership rights and forest management powers to the marginalized forest-dependent communities in India. Our study, conducted in Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR) region of West Bengal, reveals that at particular locations where the act suffers from implementation deficits or lack of coverage, it is imperative to investigate the role of local politics in facilitating or impeding access to forest rights. The study identifies the political drivers which influence the (non) implementation of the act in the SBR. It argues that despite being a rights-based law, the implementation of FRA is deeply implicated within vested political interests at specific geographical locations. The study concludes that a critique of the political economy of forest conservation is inadequate to explain the limitations of FRA implementation.


FRA Conservation Forest workers Forest department Politics Sundarban 



A preliminary version of this manuscript was presented at the national seminar on ‘Governance, Resource and Livelihoods of Adivasis in India: Implementation of PESA and FRA’, organized by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD&PR), Hyderabad, in November 2016. The authors extend their deepest gratitude to Prof. Ajit Menon for his detailed and insightful comments in revising the manuscript. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for their very helpful suggestions and thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


  1. Agrawal, A. (2005). Environmentality: Community, intimate government and the making of environmental subjects in Kumaon, India. Current Anthropology, 46(2), 161–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agrawal, A., & Ostrom, E. (2001). Collective action, property rights and decentralization in resource use in India and Nepal. Politics and Society, 29(4), 485–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agrawal, A., & Ribot, J. C. (1999). Accountability in decentralization: A framework with South Asian and West African Cases. The Journal of Developing Areas, 33(4), 473–502.Google Scholar
  4. Bandi, M. (2012). Implementation of Forest Rights Act: Undoing the historical injustices? Working Paper No. 117. Hyderabad: Centre for Economic and Social Studies.Google Scholar
  5. Bandi, M. (2016). Forest rights act: Is there any underlying pattern in implementation? Economic and Political Weekly, 51(19), 16–17.Google Scholar
  6. Banerjee, A., Ghosh, S., & Springate Baginski, O. (2010). Obstructed access to forest justice in West Bengal: State violations in the mis-implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006. Discussion Paper Number 49. Manchester: University of Manchester.Google Scholar
  7. Baviskar, A. (1995). In the belly of the river: Tribal conflicts over development in the Narmada valley. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bawa, K., Rai, N., & Sodhi, N. S. (2011). Rights, governance and conservation of biological diversity. Conservation Biology, 25(3), 639–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bose, I. (2010). How did the Indian Forest Rights Act, 2006, emerge? Discussion Paper Number 39. University of Manchester.Google Scholar
  10. Bose, P., Arts, B., & van Dijk, H. (2012). ‘Forest governmentality’: A geneology of subject making of forest-dependent ‘scheduled tribes’ in India. Land Use Policy, 29, 664–673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Broome, N. P., Desor, S., Kothari, A., & Bose, A. (2014). Changing paradigms in wildlife conservation in India. In S. Lele & A. Menon (Eds.), Democratizing forest governance in India (pp. 181–221). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. CFR-LA. (2016). Promise and performance: 10 years of Forest Rights Act in India. Community Forest Rights, Learning and Advocacy Process, India.Google Scholar
  13. Chhotray, V. (2016). Justice at sea: Fisher’s politics and marine conservation in coastal Odisha, India. Maritime Studies, 15(4), 1–23.Google Scholar
  14. Das, T., & Kothari, A. (2013). Forest rights and conservation in India. In H. Jonas et al. (Eds.), The right to responsibility: Resisting and engaging development, conservation and the law in Asia (pp. 151–174). Malaysia: Institute of Advanced Studies.Google Scholar
  15. DISHA (Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action). (2009). Traditional fishers in the Sundarban Tiger Reserve: A study on livelihood practice under protected area. Kolkata.Google Scholar
  16. Fletcher, R. (2010). Neoliberal environmentality: Towards a poststructuralist political ecology of the conservation debate. Conservation and Society, 8(3), 171–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Foucault, M. (1991). Governmentality. In G. Burchell, C. Gordon, & P. Miller (Eds.), The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality (pp. 87–104). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  18. Gadgil, M., & Guha, R. (1995). Ecology and equity: The use and abuse of nature in contemporary India. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Ghate, R. (2009). Decentralizing forest management: Pretence or reality? In the context of Forest Rights Act in India. The Politics of authority, land and natural resource: Broadening the analysis. Working Group.Google Scholar
  20. Guha, R. (1990). An early environmental debate: The making of the 1878 Forest Act. The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 27(1), 65–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gupta, A. (1995). Blurred boundaries: The discourses of corruption, the culture of politics and the imagined state. American Ethnologist, 22(2), 375–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jalais, A. (2004). People and tigers: An anthropological study of the Sundarbans of West Bengal, India. Ph.D. dissertation. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.Google Scholar
  23. Jalais, A. (2010). Forest of tigers: People, politics and environment in the Sundarbans. New Delhi: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Jeffery, R., & Sundar, N. (Eds.). (1999). A new moral economy for India’s forests? Discourses of community and participation. New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. Johnson, C. (2001). Local democracy, democratic decentralization and rural development: Theories, challenges and options for policy. Development Policy Review, 19, 521–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Karthik, M., & Menon, A. (2016). Blurred boundaries: Identity and rights in the forested landscapes of Gudalur, Tamil Nadu. Economic and Political Weekly, LI, 10, 43–50.Google Scholar
  27. Kashwan, P. (2013). The politics of rights based approach in conservation. Land Use Policy, 31, 613–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kashwan, P. (2016). Power asymmetries and institutions: Landscape conservation in central India. Regional Environmental Change, 16(Suppl. 1), S97–S109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kashwan, P. (2017). Democracy in the woods: Environmental conservation and social justice in India, Tanzania and Mexico (studies in comparative energy and environmental politics). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kumar, K., & Kerr, J. M. (2012). Democratic assertions: The making of India’s Recognition of Forest Rights Act. Development and Change, 43(3), 751–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kumar, K., Singh, N., & Giri Rao, Y. (2017). Promise and performance of the Forest Rights Act: A ten year review. Economic and Political Weekly, 52(25–26), 40–43.Google Scholar
  32. Kumar, K., Singh, N. M., & Kerr, J. M. (2015). Decentralization and democratic forest reforms in India: Moving to a rights based approach. Forest Policy and Economics, 51, 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Larson, A. M. (2005). Democratic decentralization in the forestry sector: Lessons learned from Africa, Asia and Latin America. In J. Carol, P. Colfer, & D. Capistrano (Eds.), The politics of decentralization: Forests, power and people (pp. 32–62). London, UK: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  34. Larson, A. M., & Dahal, G. R. (2012). Forest tenure reform: New resource rights for forest based communities. Conservation and Society, 10(2), 77–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Larson, A. M., & Soto, F. (2008). Decentralization of natural resource governance regimes. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 33, 213–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Menon, A. (2008). Situating law: The political economy of environment and development in India. In C. Eberhard (Ed.), Law, land use and the environment: Afro-Indian dialogues (pp. 203–223). IFP: Pondicherry.Google Scholar
  37. Ministry of Tribal Affairs. (2006). The scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (recognition of forest rights) Act, 2006. Retrieved from
  38. Ministry of Tribal Affairs. (2008). Letter No. 17014/02/2007-PC&V (Vol. VII) to all State Secretaries in-charge of Tribal Welfare on “Implications of the phrase “primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs” appearing in sections 2(c) and 2(o) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006”. Dated June 9, 2008.Google Scholar
  39. Mukhopadhyay, A. (2016). Living with disasters: Communities and development in the Indian Sundarbans. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nayak, P. K., & Berkes, F. (2008). Politics of co-optation: Community forest management versus joint forest management in Orissa, India. Environmental Management, 41, 707–718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peluso, N. L. (1993). Coercing conservation? The politics of state resource control. Global Environmental Change, 3(2), 199–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ribot, J. C. (2002). Democratic decentralization of natural resources: Institutionalizing popular participation. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.Google Scholar
  43. Sahu, G., Dash, T., & Dubey, S. (2017). Political economy of community forest rights. Economic and Political Weekly, 52(25–26), 44–47.Google Scholar
  44. Saravanan, V. (2009). Political economy of the recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006: Conflict between environmental and tribal development. South Asian Research, 29(3), 199–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sarin, M. (2005). Scheduled Tribes Bill 2005: A comment. Economic and Political Weekly, 40(21), 2131–2134.Google Scholar
  46. Sarin, M. (2014). Undoing historical injustice: Reclaiming citizenship rights and democratic forest governance through the Forest Rights Act in 2014. In S. Lele & A. Menon (Eds.), Democratizing forest governance in India (pp. 100–148). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sarin, M., & Springate Baginski, O. (2010). India’s Forest Rights Act: The anatomy of a necessary but not a sufficient institutional reform. Discussion Paper No. 45. University of Manchester.Google Scholar
  48. Sarker, D. (2011). The implementation of Forest Rights Act in India: Critical issues. Economic Affairs, 31(2), 25–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sen, A., & Pattanaik, S. (2015). Alienation, conflict and conservation in the protected areas of urban metropolis: A case study of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai. Sociological Bulletin, 64(3), 375–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sen, A., & Pattanaik, S. (2017a). How can traditional livelihoods find a place in contemporary conservation politics debates in India? Understanding community perspectives in Sundarban, West Bengal. Journal of Political Ecology, 24, 862–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sen, A., & Pattanaik, S. (2017b). Community based natural resource management in the Sundarbans: Implications of customary rights, law and practices. Economic and Political Weekly, 52(29), 93–104.Google Scholar
  52. Sivaramakrishnan, K. (2000). Crafting the public sphere in the forests of West Bengal: Democracy, development and political action. American Ethnologist, 27(2), 431–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sundarban Tiger Reserve. (2014). Annual Report 20132014. Retrieved from
  54. Taghioff, D., & Menon, A. (2010). Can a tiger change its stripes? The politics of conservation as translated in Mudumalai. Economic and Political Weekly, XLV, 28, 69–76.Google Scholar
  55. Yuliani, E. L. (2004). Decentralization, deconcentration and devolution: What do they mean? Accessed 16 Feb 2018.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities and Social SciencesIndian Institute of Technology BombayMumbaiIndia

Personalised recommendations