Odisha govt cancels forest applications of over 6000 tribal families

On November 25, several Adivasi welfare organisations protested Odisha Government’s decision of arbitrarily rejecting forest rights claims of 6,313 traditional forest dwellers.
Photo: Ishan Kukreti 

Leaders of many tribal forums such the Ganjam Adivasi Mancha (Campaign for Survival and Dignity affiliate) Rushikulya Rayat Mahasabha, and Bhita Mati Surakshya Abhijan met to show public dissent against the government move and declared that they will take to the streets and stage demonstrations against the decision of the Village Forest Protection Committee.

Adivasi committee leader Jagabandhu Sabar said, “Though the Act gives rights to use forest land and forest resources to tribals and traditional forest dwellers for their livelihood, the state government is trying to deprive them of their rights.”

The New Indian Express reported officials of District Social Welfare Department saying that the land title applications of the 6,313 applicants were rejected because none of them could produce proof of their last three generations residing in the forest. 

The tribal leaders disagreed with the claim and said that the Government violated the Clause 12(A) of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Amendment Rules, 2012 (Forest Rights Rules, 2012). It states that, except for gram sabha and the forest rights committee, no one can change or cancel forest rights applications of traditional forest dwellers.

Orissa Post reported that in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the government said the demand of 1,48,870 families including 6,402 of Ganjam tribals for title of forest land would be rejected. After the Campaign for Survival and Dignity staged a protest demonstration in front of the State Legislative Assembly on July 22 this year, the government once again informed the court that it rejects the claims of the 13,851 families including 6,313 of Ganjam. 

Reported incompliance of appeal procedure

Down To Earth reported on the serious transgressions by the Odisha forest with respect to the process of appealing against rejection of claims.

Forest dwellers in and around the Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary were orally told that their claims were rejected because the land they were occupying was leased to someone else, even though the Act requires written communication of rejection and with reasons so as to allow the applicants to appeal against the rejection within 60 days.  When a sub-divisional level committee (SDLC) was set up to look into appeals against rejected claims on June 18, these forest-dwellers were not given any direct notice, and were allegedly made to sign an affidavit which stated they accepted the decision of the SDLC.

With respect to Ganjam district, DownToEarth reported that officials went around villages asking Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) if they had any proof of occupation for the last three generations or 75 years and rejected the claims on the spot of those who did not have any.

In January 2018, the Odisha Forest Department was reported to have asked a Gram Sabha in Kalahandi district to follow a slew of measures it made if it wants to get Transit Permit (TP) for bamboo, against the provisions of the Forest Rights Act.

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