Looking at the new Central Act seeking to give land ownership rights to the Scheduled Tribes and the forest dwellers as a potential weapon to fight Naxalism, the state government has shown amazing willingness to implement the Act provisions, albeit reservations by the Forest Department.
On the other hand, the Central Government is also stressing the effective implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) to undo ‘historic injustice’ done to the Adivasi. Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh will be inaugurating a two-day conference of Tribal Affairs/Social Welfare ministers from the concerning states in Delhi on November 4 to review the preparations to implement the Act that came into effect in 2006 but its rules could be framed only last year. Chief Secretary, Atul Kumar Gupta too is scheduled to have a video-conference with DMs of concerning districts here to take stock of preparations, next week.
In addition to allowing the STs and the forest dwellers to cultivate to ceiling of four hectares of the land, the Act recognises the rights of collecting of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside the village boundaries.
As provided under the Act, committees headed by SDMs at Tehsil-level will get applications from tribals willing to get rights, the SDM-level committees will forward applications to the committees headed by DMs and DM committees will forward claims to State Government which will finally send the list to the Centre for an appropriate action.
SDM level committees formed in over half a dozen districts like Sonebhadra, Mirzapaur, Lakhimpur, Bijnaur, Lalitpur, Gorakhpur and Balrampur have already got nearly 54,000 applications.
“Of the total applications, 50,000 are from Sonebhadra alone,” Principal Secretary (Social Welfare) Prem Narayan told the Hindustan Times. The Social Welfare Department has been notified as the nodal body for the purpose.
He said the follow up action was being taken to allot pattas to the applicants after verification. “While the STs who have been living in the forests prior to the cut off date will necessarily get the land ownership rights but other forest dwellers will get the same only if they had been living there for last three generations, he pointed out. He admitted there were certain practical problems in verifying the legitimate beneficiaries but all efforts, he added, were being made to tackle the same.
The state government was of the view that conferring forest rights on the STs and the Forest Dwellers will help prevent tribals from drifting towards Naxalism, admitted Prem Narayan. “Yes, we do hope it will help us tackle the problem of Naxalism in the State,” he said. Another senior official stressed it was the right time the Act provisions were implemented at the earliest benefiting as many people as possible.
The Forest Department, however, feels that the Act basically seeks to legalise encroachments in forests where wildlife habitats, they fear might be endangered.
“The implementation of the Act provisions in some states, like Andhra Pradesh, led to serious law and order problem because many of those who had been evicted earlier from forests started recapturing forests anticipating to get legal rights on the land,” said senior Forest Department official, adding “We cannot rule out a similar situation here as those already evicted might hope for shifting of the cut off date.”
He said department was forming multi-level committees as provided under the new Act to identify inviolable space in forests. This space or the critical wildlife habitats would not be allowed to go under anyone’s possession, he said.