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Karnataka tribal communities allege false rejection of claims under FRA

The Siddis, an ethnic group in Uttara Kannada, filed over 2,300 claims of residence but nearly half were rejected.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2019 13:03 IST
Sibi Arasu
Sibi Arasu
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Forest Rights Act,Siddis,tribal communities in Karnataka
Siddi tribe members show their fingers marked with indelible ink during a voting awareness campaign ahead of Karnataka Assembly elections in Bengaluru last year.(PTI File Photo)

Several tribal communities in Karnataka, including the Siddis, have alleged that their claims of the right to live in forests were rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) because of bureaucratic oversight and lack of documents, not because the claims were not valid.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court asked the governments of 17 states to evict from forests by July 12 an estimated one million tribal and other households whose claims were rejected.

The Siddis, an ethnic group in Uttara Kannada, filed over 2,300 claims of residence but nearly half were rejected. Most of the nearly 60,000 Siddis subsist on forest produce or work as daily wage labourers for the forest department and are unnerved by the Supreme Court order.

Dio Siddhi, 67, who was coordinating his community’s efforts to file claims, said, “Many of the documents we have submitted - they have said it is not trustworthy. The problem is where we live, there is not that many documents and even the ones we have, we have lost or damaged. That does not mean that we don’t belong to this land.”

Government officials say they were liberal in the interpretation of FRA. “We are going to review all the rejected claims, and hopefully we will be able to approve more during this process,” a senior revenue department official said on condition of anonymity.

Across Karnataka, out of 48,432 claims filed by the Scheduled Tribes, 35,521 were rejected. Out of 227,014 claims filed by other forest dwellers, 141,019 claims were rejected, the ministry of tribal affairs.

Roshni Kutty, a doctorate student at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment who has been working with the Siddis, said, “The spirit of the FRA is to ‘undo historical injustice’ to these communities… The concept of claiming rights is itself new to them. It is important for the social welfare department to reach out and spread awareness among tribal communities.”

First Published: Feb 27, 2019 13:03 IST