With talks between officials and agitating tribals in Betul reaching an impasse, the Madhya Pradesh government has decided to use satellite imagery procured before and after 2005 to verify their claims over possession of forest land.
Korku tribals from Chicholi block, around 75km from the Betul district headquarters, have been agitating for more than two weeks, alleging that forest officials demolished 45 of their dwelling units on the land on December 19 and uprooted hundreds of trees they had planted over the years. They are demanding that they be given possession of the forest land and be granted pattas (land rights) according to the provisions of the forest rights act (FRA).
During their ‘neend haram karyakram’ in front of the collector’s bungalow last week, the tribals beat drums, danced and sang folk songs every night, to “wake up the authorities to their issues.”
They started on Tuesday another campaign — “Ya tou hamey jungle wapas dho..ya humey faansi dho” (Either give the forest land back to us or hang us). They hit the markets of Betul with noose around their necks and black tapes on their eyes.
Rajendra Gadwal, fighting for the tribals, told HT over the phone that the district administration wanted to form a probe committee on encroachments. “There is already a supreme court-constituted grievance redressal cell in our district which is looking into this matter. We told the collector that he should wait for the findings of the cell, which would be agreeable to both sides,” Gadwal said.
“But on January 2, officials went to the disputed site and removed the rubble of the 45 hutments in trucks. Officials also started constructing a fence. This angered us and we started a fresh protest.” Betul collector Gyaneshwar B Patil said, “Tribals had encroached upon over 100 acres of the reserved dense forest in Chicholi block in 2011. After a case had been lodged against them under Indian Forest Act, the administration cleared the encroachment.”
Patil said that if tribals could prove they had taken possession of the land before December 2005, they would be given pattas. “For this we will use the satellite imagery of the disputed area... We have agreed to wait for the findings of the SC-constituted grievance redressal cell,” the collector said.
“We have asked the tribals to apply for pattas. We will ask each tribal to produce proof that he or she had possession of the forest land before 2005.”
Korku tribals, believed to be originally a hunting-gathering community which lived in the Satpura forests, are mainly found in Betul, Harda, Khandwa, Burhanpur and Chhindwara districts.
WHAT THE FOREST RIGHTS ACT SAYS?
According to Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the occupation of forest land should be prior to December 13, 2005 for recognition and vesting of forest rights.
For being eligible for recognition of rights under FRA, three conditions need to be fulfilled — primarily residing in forest or forests land for three generations (75 years) prior to December 13, 2005, depending on the forest or forestland for bona fide livelihood needs and must have occupied forest land prior to December 13, 2005.