On August 18, the Uttar Pradesh Forest Minister, Dara Singh Chauhan, informed the state Assembly during the on-going session about the lands allotted under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The question was whether land has been allotted for agriculture and habitation purpose to the forest dwellers and how many forest villages have been declared revenue villages. The Ministry replied that until now in 13 districts 20,053 families have been allotted lands under FRA for agriculture and habitation purpose. These districts include Lakhimpur Kheri, Balrampur, Bahraich, Gorakhpur, Mirzapur, Sonbhadra, Lalitpur, Maharajganj, Bijnaur, Chitrakoot, Chandauli, Gonda and Sahranpur.
The Ministry also provided information on the declared revenue villages and stated that 18 forest villages in Maharajganj, 5 each in Gorakhpur, Gonda, Balrampur, 1 each in Lakhimpur Kheri and Bahraich as well as 3 forest villages in Sahranpur have been declared as revenue villages under FRA. As per Census 2011, there are 89 forest villages in UP, and as per its own submission only 38 villages have been converted.
The rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitations, unsurveyed villages into revenue villages are recognised as forest rights under section 3(1)(h) of the FRA. In 2012, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had advised all state governments to convert all erstwhile forest villages, unrecorded settlements and old habitations into revenue villages in a time bound manner.
Conversion of forest villages or tribal villages into revenue villages, enables the administration to adopt development measures such as setting up of schools, dispensaries, and other such facilities in these villages. In revenue villages, the villagers are conferred with heritable but inalienable rights over the land, which have manifold benefits. The villagers can use this land as a guarantee for seeking bank loans to engage in any vocation.
Union Ministry’s records
While the data provided by the state ministry does not give the complete picture, the Union Tribal Ministry’s monthly report gives away the true picture in terms of claims made under FRA
The Monthly progress report released by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs suggests that until February 2021, UP has received 93,732 claims (individual + community) under FRA and out of these claims, 18,825 titles have been distributed until February and the state has rejected a total of 74,840 claims. This indicates that only about 20% of the claims filed have been approved and titles have been distributed.
Reality of Land Rights claims in UP
In March this year, SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) along with partner organisation All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) helped forest dwelling communities navigate the complex labyrinth of bureaucracy and stake legal claim to forest land under FRA. Both teams helped women in Chitrakoot file 8 community forest rights claims while pursuing filing of 10 more such claims.
Fighting for land rights under FRA is no mean task. These forest dwellers have to deal with forest authorities and police as well to protect the forests that are their source of livelihood and in many cases are their place of habitation. In the past one year itself many of such incidents have been documented where forest dwellers and people residing in forest villages have been harassed by authorities for claiming their right to continue their livelihood and to live in these areas, as they have been doing since generations.
In January, women in Lilasi village, Sonbhadra were physically assaulted by the police for peacefully protesting an unauthorised construction on forest land. Lilasi village and its brave women forest rights defenders are not new to police brutality. They had been attacked in May 2018 as well when police stormed into the village and brutally beat up women and broke huts. After some key members of the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP) met key government officials to convey their grievances, police illegally detained Sokalo Gond and Kismatiya Gond and kept them behind bars for months. The two were only released after a sustained campaign by CJP, where we moved a habeas corpus petition for production of Sokalo and Kismatiya Gond before the Allahabad High Court.
In July 2020, when a local businessman had allegedly usurped forest land illegally and started construction of a house and a shop on it, 40-50 residents of Lilasi went to the construction site where they were chased away by hired thugs who allegedly threatened to burn them alive if the Adivasis ever returned to the site. In the same month, came reports from Manikpur area of Chitrakoot district that forest officials were allegedly engaging in multiple illegal methods of keeping Adivasis away from forest lands. Instances of intimidation, harassment and abuse were reported from Adivasis in villages like Unchdih, Gopipur, Ranipur, Nagar and Kihuniya. They were allegedly prevented by forest officials from tilling their lands and upon objecting and staking their claim, they were allegedly threatened with the prospect of false cases and arrest.
There were also reports of forest officials attacking and molesting Adivasi women of Tharu Tribe in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. The villagers were initially harassed by digging trenches of approximately six feet on the periphery of the village, in June 2020, to prevent them from accessing the forests
The answer in UP assembly in Hindi can be read here: