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Problems begin surfacing in the "review" process of tribals' claim for land, says Arch Vahini report

By Our Representative
Problems have begun cropping up in the Gujarat government’s recent decision to “review” the rejected claims of the tribals’ land title applications under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), which is under implementation in the 12 predominantly scheduled tribe (ST) districts of Gujarat. According to official sources, about 182,869 claims were filed by the ST and other forest dwelling families for the recognition of their right over forest lands that are in their occupation for habitation/ self-cultivation from before December, 2005. Out of these, the government officials “checked” 1,54,657 claims, but of these only 55,025 or just 30 per cent of the claims were found to be valid, according to the latest figures have come in.
“Large number of claims were rejected, despite the fact that most of these claims had the necessary two evidences, considered acceptable under Rule 13 and the gram sabhas had recommended them for approval”, says a January 2013 report, prepared by Trupti Parekh of Arch Vahini, a voluntary organization working among South Gujarat tribals, for a discussion on land issues, organized by Janpath in Ahmedabad. The report said, “The large-scale rejection of the claims led to wide spread protest and dissatisfaction amongst the tribals. The issue was also raised in the meeting of the Tribal Advisory Council and a PIL was filed in the Gujarat High Court in August 2011. As a result, the tribal development department took a decision to 'review' or 're-examine' all the rejected claims.”
As a result, a few months back, the report says, “the process of actual process of review by these Committees started a few months and is still under progress”. However, ground-level realities suggest that problems have already started coming to the light, with divisional-level land committees (DLCs) and sub-divisional land committees (SLDCs), formed for examining the land title applications, failing to get down to accepting the claims based on the requirements of the forest rights Act, 2012. “The SDLCs and DLCs have been asked to review the rejected claims, but no fresh instructions have been issued with regard to evidences that can be considered acceptable. The previous instructions / circulars issued in this regard have also not been withdrawn or modified”, the report says.
In fact, the report says, the joint director, FRA, has in his affidavit before the Gujarat High Court claimed that only the evidence based on forest department records can establish whether the claimed lands were under cultivation in 2005 or not can be relied upon. As for other evidences, like panchnama, etc., these are “secondary evidences and is not relied upon”, the report says, underlining, “It may be pointed out that panchnamas together with photographs are the only way in which the evidence of physical attributes, indicating long standing possession can be brought on record. Most of the forest rights committees (FRCs) have carried out field verification of the claimed lands and recorded these physical evidences in the panchnamas. And yet these panchnamas have been and are being totally ignored by the SDLCs while deciding the claims.”
The result is that “the district authorities are still considering only the forest department records as acceptable evidence”. Other evidences, acceptable under Rule 13, like panchnama and photographs describing the physical attributes indicating long occupation are “still being ignored”. Similarly, “other documentary evidences like claim applications made prior to December, 2005 for regularization of occupied forest lands are also being ignored.” Also during the review process, “the district authorities are still relying mainly on the forest department opinion, and in many cases the teams formed for visiting the villages too are headed by the forest department officers”.
Further, the report says, “No new instructions have been issued for proper use of satellite imageries and the previous instructions of considering only the common plots marked by Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geoinformatics (BISAG) as final are still in force. No instructions have been issued to carry out proper GPS survey of the claimed lands with the help of FRCs and to place them on the imageries. Nor are the FRCs been given sufficiently large maps with imageries which would enable them to identify and mark the lands of each claimant on the same.”
In fact, the report emphasizes, “Many FRCs and claimants have on their own initiative carried out GPS surveys of the claimed lands and superimposed the same on the maps with Imageries with help and guidance from voluntary organizations like ours. They have submitted these maps to the district authorities as additional evidence. And yet these maps with satellite imageries are also not being considered by the SDLCs and the DLCs as acceptable and are totally ignored. We had also requested the Commissioner, Tribal Development, to provide soft copies of the maps prepared by BISAG under RTI, so that we can help the FRCs in super-imposing the results of GPS surveys on these maps. But these too have not been provided till date. As a result the imageries acquired from National Remote Sending Agency (NRSA(, Hyderabad are lying in the BISAG office and not at all being used properly for the purpose for which they were acquired.”
In fact, says the report, satellite imageries should be used in a transparent and participatory manner with active involvement of the gram sabhas and FRCs. This can be done by giving sufficiently large village maps (with scale of 1:10000) with imageries to the gramsabhas / FRCs and then asking them to identify and mark the lands claimed by each claimant on the same, which can then help in taking appropriate decisions. Alternatively, GPS / PDA surveys of all claimed lands can be carried out and the results of which can then be super imposed on the properly registered imageries of 2005 and 2007 and then the print outs of the village maps with imageries and GPS plots can then be given to the gram sabhas and the SDLCs so that they can take appropriate decisions regarding each claim, based on condition of the claimed lands as seen in the imagery.
“None of these two simple, transparent and participatory methods were adopted by the State Government. Instead highly centralized, opaque non transparent and non-participatory and erroneous method, described above was adopted. And a totally false conclusion was made that most of claims are also not supported by the satellite imageries”, the report alleges.
Not without reason, the report says, “Most of the claims that have been approved in the past couple of months are those that had the documentary evidence in form of forest department records and yet were rejected or kept pending earlier. Other claims that have the other acceptable evidences are not being considered for approval at all and are being rejected or kept pending and are expected to be rejected once the elections are over. Some of the districts have in fact already started rejecting most of the claims.”
In fact, “the partially approved claims (where the claims were approved, but area was reduced) have also not been brought under the review process and as such no steps are being taken to correct the approved area for such claims. The process of carrying out GPS/ PDA survey for these approved claims is also very slow and the area is also not being revised on the basis of these surveys.”
On the issue of recognizing the community rights of the scheduled areas, especially on forest produce, too, the Gujarat government has been lukewarm. “This is because not enough steps were taken by the state government to raise people’s awareness regarding these provisions of the Act. As a result, only those villages where FRCs were aware of these provisions, have filed these claims”, the report says, adding, “Very few from these claims filed have been approved by the SDLCs / DLCs, although there is no question of rejecting any of these claims. Large number of remaining claims are still pending with SDLCs / DLCs.
Even in case of claims that have been approved by the DLCs, no adhikarpatras or titles have been given to the Gramsabhas for the same. Not a single adhikarpatra or title for community rights over forest resources has so far been issued in the state. As a result, gram sabhas have not been able to form committees and take appropriate steps for the protection, regeneration management for sustainable use of the forest areas. Thus, much needs to be done as far as these rights are concerned”, the report says. According to government sources, as many as 4,448 applications for community rights have been made, out of which only 1,940 have been approved till now.
As for Individual and Community Rights in the non-scheduled areas, the report says, “The state has simply not started implementation of this Act in non-scheduled areas in last four years. Hence even the first steps of forming FRCs, SDLCs and DLCs have not been taken. The problems would start appearing only after the process of implementation begins. One issue, on which a clarification needs to be issued in this regard is the status of salt-pan workers. Many agariyas have been extracting ('cultivating') salt in the Little Rann of Kutchh (part of the Wild Ass Sanctuary) for past many years. Their right to do so need to be recognized under this Act. But it is not clear as to which provision of the Act would apply for these rights. Necessary clarification in this regard needs to be urgently issued.”

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