Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tribal land rights implementation poorest in Gujarat's backward Dahod district: Representation to chief minister

Tribals protest in Ahmedabad for land rights
By Our Representative
A new compilation on providing cultivation rights to tribal farmers has revealed that in the backward Dahod district of Gujarat, out of a total of 20,150 claims submitted to the local forest rights committee, formed by the state government to verify and hand over land titles, just about 3,162 farmers -- just 15.68% as against the state average of 40% -- have been handed over cultivation rights over the last one decade.
A representation sent to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, with complete details of tribals who have failed to get cultivation rights, along with data from across Gujarat’s eastern tribal belt, says that a major reason why Dahod has suffered more than other districts is, officials here do not apply provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
The district officials disregard the provision that the tribal applicant should offer two records along with an elderly person’s statement, apart from visual evidence before the village council, as the valid documents for the right to cultivate, says the representation. Instead, it adds, they take into consideration the opinion and receipts of the forest department.
Worse, the representation says, the forest department has been forcibly carrying out plantation on the land claimed by the tribal cultivators. And when the cultivators go to the police to complain, nothing happens. “Police officials intimidate the cultivators, asking them why they are cultivate forest land”, the representation by Ekalavya Sangathan, operating in the tribal-dominated districts of eastern Gujarat, says.
Ekalavya had planned a rally in Ahmedabad with the participation of around 4,000 tribals to protest against "poor" implementation of the FRA, 2006, in Gujarat. While it could not hold its rally, it was allowed a mass gathering at Sardar Baugh in the city after the representation was handed over to the district collector, Ahmedabad.
Things are bad in other parts of Gujarat as well, says the representation. In Khedbrahma and Vijaynagar talukas of Sabarkantha district, forest officials forcibly carry out plantation on the forest land, on which the crops are ready to be harvested. They even take the help of the state reserve police (SRP) forces and to intimidate the tribals.
In Sabarkantha’s Poshina taluka, the representation adds, forest officials forcibly carries out plantation on the land which has been given cultivation rights. The does not accept complaint against the forest department in Kheroj and Poshina areas.
In fact, says the representation, at several places in Sabarkantha’s Poshina and Vijaynagar talukas, there has not been any verification of tribal land. In such cases the claimed land should be verified immediately, yet the approved claim application cultivation rights document does not have any or seal of the concerned authority.
On December 31, 2013, the representation says, the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi handed over land entitlement to 2,596 tribal farmers out of 9,939 who were identified as valid claimants in Panchmahal district. The rest of 7,343 farmers have still not received entitlement till date.
Tribals show documents showing they have right to land
At some spots, the representation says, famers have the rightful possession of land, and have built their house over it. However, when farmers cultivate the land, the forest department expects them to pay fine.
Things are also bad in non-tribal talukas of some of North Gujarat districts. Thus, in Modasa, Himatnagar, Idar, Vadali and Malpur, FRA, 2006 has still not been implemented. Here, even forest rights committees have not been formed, hence claims have not been taken up for examination.
Then, in Mahisagar district’s Virpur and Balasinor talukas, says the representation, no FRCs have been formed, hence the claims of the applicants have not been submitted. In Lunavada and Khanpur talukas, application forms have been filled but nobody knows what has happened thereafter.
Blaming government policy of making non-cultivators as presidents and vice-presidents of forest rights committees for such state of affairs, the representation, says, such committees should be reviewed and dissolved, and new committee should be formed.
The policy has led to a situation where other backward class forest dwelling farmers’ claims have been rejected, even though they are equal claimants of forest land under FRA, 2006. Such claims should be approved and entitlement should be given, the representation says.

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