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1.29 lakh forest land claims rejected in Odisha, gram sabhas being disempowered: CSD tells Central tribal team

By Our Representative
Members of the Campaign For Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, a forest rights organization, have told Nanda Kumar Sai, chairperson of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), Government of India, that, contrary to huge propaganda by the state government, about 1.29 lakh out of a total of 6.05 lakh individual forest rights (IFR) claims have been rejected in Odisha.
Briefing him at the Odisha State Guest House, and giving him details of violations of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, and the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996 during his four days visit to Odisha, they particularly raising the issue of "disempowerment of FRA gram sabhas", alleging that in the "whole FRA implementation process, there has been consistent and systematic bypassing of the empowered FRA gram sabhas by Odisha government officials."
Those who accompanied Sai included Anusuiya Uikey, vice- chairperson, and members Hari Krishna Damor and Harshadbhai Chunilal Vasava. They were in Odisha since January 16 to hear allegations of violation of tribal rights in the state. NCST was formed under Article 338-A of the Constitution, which gives special protection to tribal rights across the country.
In its petition submitted to the NCST team, CSD said, while the Government of Odisha claims to be No.1 in issuing highest number of IFR titles in comparison to other states, the the ground realities are different.
Appraising NCST of the "realities" as seen by it, it said, “The state government has issued title papers to the tribals. Yet, though ten years of FRA implementation have passed, it has failed to demarcate most of the forest land issued under IFR and community forest rights (CFR)."
It pointed out that rejection of IFR claims of both scheduled tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs). It is to be noted that as per the latest FRA report of November 30, 2017, 1,28,868 IFR claims (1,23,417 of STs and 25,451 of OTFDs) have been rejected out of a total 6,05,588 (5,75,070 of STs and 30,516 of OTFDs)."
Apprising the NCST of poor recognition of community rights in the state and how obstructions were being created by the state forest department in the way of FRA implementation, CSD said, this was being done by "pushing illegal Van Surakshya Samitis through Ama Jungle Yojana."
Seeking strong directions to the state forest department, CSD urged NCST to tell the state government to issue CFR titles to all villages, to ensure ownership rights over minor forest produce, to recognise the individual forest rights of OTFDs, to "identify all forest and un-surveyed villages falling in the reserve forest and to convert them into revenue villages, to monitor the cancellation of IFR titles in the coal mining area of Hemgiri Block in Sundargarh district, to respect the PESA Act 1996, and to implement it in its true spirit in the Scheduled 5th areas."
CSD wanted the state government to also recognise the habitat rights of all the 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) in the state and implement the Central government’s mnimum support price scheme for minor forest produce "in its true spirit", and provide white paper on the coverage of implementation of FRA in villages of the state.
It also asked NCST to ensure enumeration of the exact landlessness among tribals families of the state and to provide one standard acres of revenue land to each and every tribal family, even endowing community ownership rights over all cashew forest/plantation land.
Thanking NCST intervention and recommendation on the "illegal" National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), especially NCTA's order dated March 28 2017, CSD sought direction to NTCA to immediately withdraw it, asking it to enhance compensation amount from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh per family willing to be relocated from the tiger reserves of the country.
CSD at the same time urged NCST to direct the Central government to dismiss the anti-FRA Compensatory Afforestation (CAMPA) Fund Act, 2016 and sought flow of the forest protection and management fund directly to the bank account of the concerned gram sabhas.
Sai assured CSD members of "necessary directions" to both the state and Central governments regarding "violations" of FRA, 2006 and PESA, 1996 in the state. Apart from CSD members, community members from Nayagarh district filed separate petitions before NCST to get rights over cashew lands, which they have been "protecting" and on which they have "depended" for generations.

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