Forest departments violating Forest Rights Act, say tribals

Tribals allege that forest departments in several states are carrying out plantation on their lands without their consent

New Delhi: A group of activists has accused forest departments in several states of violating the Forest Rights Act by carrying out massive plantation on land on which tribal communities have a claim.

The claim has been made in a petition sent to the Union ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA), which is the nodal ministry for the Forest Rights Act that was passed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2006.

The law is aimed at ensuring that forest dwellers, including Scheduled Tribes, get their rights over forest land and non-timber forest produce.

In a meeting in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for implementation of Forest Rights Act by states in mission mode following which the tribal affairs ministry asked all state governments to implement the Act as soon as possible.

In their petition on 9 August, the activists alleged that tribal rights were being violated in several states, citing the example of states such as Odisha and Telangana.

“This is being done through the plantations being carried out by the forest departments under schemes such as the Odisha Forestry Sector Development Project (externally aided project supported by Japan International Cooperation Agency), plantations for compensatory afforestation using Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority funds and plantations using Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) funds, among others," said the petition sent to the tribal affairs secretary.

In Odisha’s Kandhamal district (Dulapadar hamlet of Burlubaru village), 52 members of the Kutia Kondh, categorised as a particularly vulnerable tribal group, received individual forest rights over 166 plots of forest land.

Despite the recognition of their rights under the Forest Rights Act, the forest department carried out massive teak plantations on their cultivated lands without their consent and despite resistance from the title holders.

“Ironically, the forest department has carried out these plantations using MGNREGA funds. The same situation prevails in many other Kutia Kondh villages in other parts of Kandhamal district," the letter alleged.

The petition was sent by organizations including the Odisha-based Vasundhara, Maharashtra-based Vrikshamitra and Kalpavriksh, Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan and independent researchers like Rana Roy.

Till May 2015, around 4.36 million individual and community claims on forest land were been filed across India, but only 1.65 million land titles were issued, while 1.85 million were rejected, according to data from the tribal affairs ministry.

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