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PVTG Gets Habitat Rights

Bhubaneswar: In a historic move, the Odisha Government today awarded Habitat Rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to 32 villages of Paudi Bhuyan Community in Deogarh district, marking a significant milestone under the Mo Jungle Jami Yojana (MJJM). Chief Secretary Pradeep Kumar Jena handed over the Habitat Rights titles to the community leaders at Lok Seva Bhawan.

It can be mentioned here that the Paudi Bhuyan, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PTVG) is the first indigenous community from Odisha to receive the Habitat Rights. It is fourth such title awarded in India under the category following the Bharia PVTG in Madhya Pradesh and Kamar PVTG and Baiga PVTG in Chhattisgarh had legal title and rights over their forest habitats.

During the entire claim filing process, the technical support was extended by Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) under the ST&SC Development, Minorities and Backward Classes Welfare Department.

Hailing the move, Commissioner-cum-Secretary ST&SC Development, Minorities and Backward Classes Welfare Department Roopa Roshan Sahoo said “this is a proud moment for all of us as the first PVTG community from Odisha, Paudi Bhuyans from Deogarh have been awarded Habitat Rights under FRA.”

Terming it as a “significant milestone” Indramani Tripathy, Director SCSTRTI and Director ST at the Department, said “It gives me immense pleasure to announce that the relentless efforts of the state programme management unit team along with the unwavering support of the facilitating NGOs have culminated in this official recognition.”

Chendali Pradhan (60), priest of the community Goddess Rambha Devi of Paudi Bhuyan community, from Pacheripani village, after receiving the title document, said “now we will be collecting the minor forest produce (MFP) from the forests and could sale it to the SHGs and government agencies under Laghu Bana Jatiya Drabya Kraya (LABHA) Scheme to ensure minimum support price.”

Tela Pradhan (29) who is the president of the forest rights committee (FRC) of Saranaput village, is very much hopeful that it would definitely help the community members of the 32 villages to have better livelihood. Tikeswar Nayak (55) from Gurusang village was hopeful that the Habitat Rights would also pave the way to the development of the religious sites across the 32 villages of the Paudi Bhuyan community in Deogarh district.

There are 75 centrally recognized PVTGs in India. This special category from among the Scheduled Tribes was conceptualised during the 4th Five Year Plan on the basis of the report of Dhebar Commission (1960-61). They were included based on the recommendations of Tribal Research Institutes of the respective states. Odisha houses 13 PVTGs, the highest among all the states.

While on September 15, 2021 the Paudi Bhuyan community filed the Habitat Rights Claim through the Bamunda Anchalika Paudi Bhuyan Samaj under Barkote tahsil on March 7, 2024, a meeting was convened by sub-divisional level committee (SDLC) and district-level committee (DLC) in Deogarh, marking a significant milestone. Here, the Habitat Rights claim of the Paudi Bhuyan PVTG community underwent thorough review and received approval. The process also granted approval for cultural and religious rights over the Maa Rambhaba Devi Sacred Grove.

This achievement not only acknowledges the rights of the Paudi Bhuyan PVTG community, but also underscores the Odisha Government’s commitment to preserving indigenous cultures and empowering tribal communities and PVTGs in particular.

District Collector Deogarh Somesh Upadhyay, expressing his happiness, said “The Habitat Rights to Paudi Bhuyan community will ensure protection of their territorial habitat, generational knowledge, cultural identity and livelihood. While many flagship schemes are being converged for their harmonious development in the area, the Habitat Rights under FRA will certainly help in recognising their distinct cultural heritage and traditions.”

Divisional Forest Officer Deogarh, Magar Dhanaji Raoso added “Tribal communities often possess unique knowledge about their local ecosystems, flora, fauna and sustainable resource management. Recognising their rights allows them for the preservation of local biodiversity and sustainable management of natural resources.”

FRA expert and Team Leader from Vasundhara Arabinda Rout summed up “This unique achievement is a recognition to the socio-economic-cultural identity of Paudi Bhuyans as for generations they were having no recognition either for their own territory or the deities and nature to whom they usually worship.”