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South Gujarat tribal farmers' body "ties up" with Dalit leader Mevani, to begin land rights campaign after Feb 28

Romel Sutariya
By Our Representative
An upcoming tribal land rights organization of South Gujarat has announced that, starting with February 28, it would join hands with Gujarat’s Dalit and Other Backward Class (OBC) bodies in order to begin a sustained campaign against “failure” of the state government to provide land to the tribals under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM) leader Romel Sutariya, in Ahmedabad to make the announcement, is said to have tied with well-known Dalit rights leader Jignesh Mevani of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch and OBC leaders. “Mevani has assured me support”, Sutariya told Counterview.
Observers said, the idea is to create a common anti-BJP platform of tribals, Dalits and OBCs ahead of the Gujarat state assembly polls, scheduled for late this year. It is not clear which political formation the proposed platform would support.  
Mevan's move to tieup with with the South Gujarat tribal land rights body, revealed through a Facebook post, comes following pressure from within the Dalit camp, which is unhappy with him for shaking hands with pro-quota Patidar leader Hardik Patel. Dalit activists across the state have reacted angrily to Mevani's move, especially after Harik Patel's meeting with Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai.
Alleging slow progress in allocation of land to tribals in Gujarat under FRA, 2006, Sutariya told newspersons that just about 10,363 tribals received cultivation rights over the last three years, taking the total number of tribals with the legal right to cultivate to 73,921.
Harik Patel with Uddhav Thackeray
Based in South Gujarat, especially in tribal-dominated Tapi and Valsad districts, and representing tribal farmers, a new class coming up following thousands of tribals receiving land rights over the forest land they were cultivating, the AKSM activist said, in all 1,82,969 claims were sent ti the state tribal department, out of which, three years ago, 63,558 cases were cleared.
Sutariya said, "According to latest official figures, 73,921 tribal farmers have got cultivation rights, which suggests that as many as 1,08,948 claims are still pending at various levels."
Under FRA, 2006, the tribals who were cultivating forest land as on December 13, 2005, would become rightful owners of their land once they produce proof of their cultivation to the tribal village council. While the village councils are said to have cleared almost all the pending applications, the government-formed district level committees, which are to give a final nod, have been slow in examining the claims.
Sutariya alleged, AKSM has received a number of complaints suggesting that that the state forest department, under the pretext of a Gujarat government resolution dated November 24, 2016, is not allowing land measurement committees to enter forest areas in tribal villages of Tapi and Valsad. "As a result, the tribals are unable to claim their land", he added.
Another major issue to be taken up by AKSM, said Sutariya, would be failure to implement the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996 in tribal areas. “While the rules were formed last year to begin implementing PESA, this was done with an eye on state assembly elections”, he said. PESA, 1996 allows tribal self-rule in village council panchayat areas.
The third major issue, said Sutariya, is the tribals' common village land in South Gujarat, especially in Tapi district, facing environmental destruction because of sand mining in rivers and stone crushing. Sutariya said, "Unfortunately, state government has taken no measures to stop the illegal activities. All these activities are taking place in violation of PESA."
The fourth issue, he said, would be the multi-crore chit-fund scam which has come to light in the tribal areas. "Scores of tribals are being fleeced. Money received from the tribals was used for diverted to hide black money during the demonetization phase. The tribals never received the funds back. We demand a CBI inquiry be instituted in the whole matter."

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