|A Gujarat tribal village|
A well-entrenched Gujarat tribal rights group, Ekalavya Sangathan, has said that the state government has so far recognized just 40.42% of the tribal claims for land out of a total of 1.83 lakh applications okayed by tribal village councils for regularizing forest land. The rest of the 59.68% “stand rejected”.
Talking with newspersons in Ahmedabad a day ahead of a rally planned for regularizing the land rights of the tribals, Paulomee Mistry, executive secretary, Ekalavya, said, as many as seven Indian states have “performed better than Gujarat” in regularizing forest for tribal and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
“The states where a higher percentage of tribal land rights have been recognized are Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana and Tripura”, Mistry said, adding, “Now, in utter disregard of the FRA, 2016, the state government claims it has completed its job of scanning all the applicants, and it believes it does not need to do anything more.”
Mistry insisted, “While the tribals are clearly angry, in a clear signal that they are not being given the democratic space, they have not been given the permission for their proposed rally with Ekalavya support. The rally was to start at the district collector's office in Ahmedabad at 12 noon. As many as 4,000 tribals are expected to come from six districts. We will, however, hold a mass demonstration at Sardar Bagh, for which we have been given permission.”
Saying the massive rejections would force as many as 1,08,948 claimants to go into an appeal, Mistry said, “Even those who have been given land haven't yet become the legal owners. They have only received cultivation rights, and not land titles, which means that the land still belongs to the state forest or revenue department.”
Under the FRA, 2006, all the tribals and other forest dwellers who had been cultivating forest land as on December 13, 2005 would receive land ownership title. The land legally transferred to a tribal, according to the law, cannot be sold or transferred to anyone except by inheritance.
Contending that these are official figures, released by the Government of India on January 11, 2016, Mistry accused the state government of moving at an “extremely slow pace” in providing land titles. “Almost no one of the 73,921 forest dwellers. who have been given cultivation rights, have so far received the titles”, she said, adding, “Of these, 73,921 tribals,we estimate, 20 per cent are fake.”
Mistry said, “What is also appalling is that, the tribals do not know whom to appeal against the rejections, as the forest rights committees, whom they should be approaching, have still not been formed, such as in Sabarkantha district's Vadali and Idal talukas, Aravalli district's Meghraj, Malpur and Modasa talukas.”
She further said, “In Jhalod taluka of Dahod district, the state government has not even begun scanning the tribal land claims after then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's tall promises on December 31, 2003”, adding, “In Virpur and Balasinor talukas of Kheda district, forms for making forest land available have not even been distributed.”