With over 104 million people across more than 700 different tribes accounting for 9% of the country's total population, India is home to one of the largest indigenous populations in the world.
Often living in the remotest part of the country, each of these tribes have distinct cultures and traditions that shape their professions, practices and identities that they have carried with them for centuries. Consequently, the tribal population continue to remain disconnected without adequate access to the services provided by the state and or the ability to access the opportunities provided by the market.
Thus, these communities look to the forests as their primary source of livelihood, and for much of the last century they did not have formal recognition of the customary rights they had over these forest lands. This lack of tenure security limits their ability to adopt efficient farming practices and also disincentivised investments in the property that would have made it more productive.
Further, the lack of such rights also has a cascading effect on the day to day lives of people from tribal communities. For instance, without any proof of residence, it is often difficult to open a bank account or even enrol one's child in a school.
Moreover, despite cultivating produce from forests, the lack of a formal farmer status for people from tribal communities prevent them from accessing welfare benefits such as a Kisan Credit Card, minimum support price for their produce and also limits their access to government infrastructure schemes including irrigation programmes.
Thus, a lack of legal rights to use forest produce also reduces the communities' ability to increase their incomes through open economic channels, rendering them even more vulnerable to harassment, threat of eviction and displacement with no compensation.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA) acknowledges that these communities are indigenous to the forests where they reside, and a historical injustice has been committed by denying formal land rights to them. The Act aims to amend this with the formal recognition of property rights of forest dwellers.
Under FRA a family can claim "˜individual forest rights' (IFR) to live in and cultivate up to 4 hectares of forest land and communities can claim formal recognition of forest land maintained by the community and avail of community forest rights (CFR) titles. This gives them access to use and sell non-timber forest produce such as bamboo and tendu patta increasing their avenues for income from forest produce.
Unfortunately, despite the provisions of the FRA, its implementation has been hindered by a number of factors including the lack of awareness and ability amongst the tribal population to follow the complex application process and limited state capacity to process the claims. Across India, only 1.9 million3 IFR titles of a potential 20 million and 76,154 CFR titles of a possible 300,000 have been approved since 2006.
Omidyar Network India's grant is aimed at helping Pradan, one of India's leading NGOs, enable at least 1 million people to gain secure land tenure by helping 4000 villages with CFR titles and at least 40,000 households with IFR titles. Furthermore, Pradan aims to demonstrate the improvement in livelihoods among these households after receiving secure property rights by pioneering a set of interventions to enable forest-based livelihoods.
Pradan aims to do this, by leveraging technology and placing gender equity as the central pillars of this transformative process. The project would leverage several technologies including innovative GIS based mobile applications to optimise the land mapping process.
Pradan is also ensuring that woman self-help groups are mobilised for livelihood related activities and that the name of at least one woman from each household is added to the land deed, in accordance with the provisions of the FRA.
We at ON India work towards supporting organisations and enterprises that create long-lasting, sustainable impact for sections of society that have great potential for development but do not have any protection of their agency or access to responsive institutions. Thus, we share Pradan's vision of empowering tribal communities to be self-sufficient, productive and prosperous and we hope this grant will go a long way in achieving this common goal.
Omidyar Network India invests in bold entrepreneurs who help create a meaningful life for every Indian, especially the hundreds of millions of Indians in low-income and lower-middle-income populations, ranging from the poorest among us to the existing middle class. To drive empowerment and social impact at scale, we work with entrepreneurs in the private, nonprofit and public sectors, who are tackling India’s hardest and most chronic problems. We make equity investments in early stage enterprises and provide grants to nonprofits in the areas of Digital Society, Education, Emerging Tech, Financial Inclusion, Cities & Innovation and Property Inclusivity. Omidyar Network India is part of the Omidyar Group, a diverse collection of companies, organizations and initiatives, supported by philanthropists Pam and Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay.