As with tribals and other forest dwellers, pastoralists’ access to land and forests has been affected primarily because of the process of consolidation of state forests with the creation of reserve forests and other categories of forests. Notification of state forests has led to pastoralists losing traditional access to and control over grazing lands as in the case of the Banni grassland in Kutch (notified as protected forest), and the Bara Bangahal area in Himachal’s Kangra District (demarcated as Wildlife Sanctuary). These issues have been raised in multiple fora as part of the effort to secure rights of access and use by forest-dwelling and forest-dependent communities.
Complexities of pastoral tenures
Pastoralist mobility adds a layer of tenurial complexity that has resulted in fewer claims being filed by pastoralist communities under the FRA. This mobility results in pastoralists’ using resource rich habitats, like the extensive alpine pastures of the Himalayas, the arid and semi-arid expanses of Rajasthan and Gujarat, and the grasslands of the Deccan Plateau for part of the year, and village commons in densely settled agricultural communities for a different part of the year. In the former, pastoralist need for access to grazing resources is contested primarily by the forest department, which sees pastoralism as a threat to biodiversity, wildlife, and other ecosystem services. In the latter instance, agricultural communities competing for village commons pose the greatest challenge to pastoralist access to grazing areas.
Tenure insecurity characterises pastoralist rights over both situations, with two facets of their struggles making them distinct from other communities seeking to secure resource rights: First, because pastoralists tend to move from one area to another, they are generally absent from contested spaces for up to six months of the year, sometimes longer. As perennial visitors to a given area, they have limited ability to influence decision-making and events. And second, in densely settled areas, pastoralists are often claiming grazing rights alongside those of agricultural communities who might use village commons for a variety of purposes. Here herders are disadvantaged as they are easily portrayed as outsiders, with little ability to contest political or other forms of muscle that are available to the communities whose areas they are passing through.
Exploring the potential of FRA
Although the FRA does make provisions for recognizing pastoralist rights, there have been limited successes. For that reason, and given the particular complexities associated with pastoralist tenurial issues, the Centre for Pastoralism is working with a number of regional partners to facilitate claim making in different parts of the country, as part of the FRA. We believe such an initiative is needed to deepen our understanding of what such claim making will entail, and the kinds of bottlenecks and issues that such claim making will need to confront. Given the extraordinarily diverse work that has already taken place around claim making amongst forest-dependent, settled communities, we believe that recognition of pastoralist rights represents a frontier area within the larger context of the FRA.