The Tiruvannamalai Collector has issued forest title rights to 1,021 tribals and other forest dwellers of the Jawadhu Hills in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu so far, reported The Hindu.
Additionally, 154 titles were given under community rights to 3 villages in Polur, 11 in Sandavasal, 36 at Nattaanur, 49 at Jamunamarudur and 56 at Melpattur, reported DT Next.
The officials of the Department of Adi-Dravidar and Tribal Welfare informed the publication that 39.522.23 hectares of the forest land has been covered under rights conferred through the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (also known as Forest Rights Act) with vigour. The beneficiary tribals and other forest residents will now be able to farm on the land and use minor forest produce.
Tiruvannamalai Collector B. Murugesh was quoted in by The Hindu as saying, “some of the minor forest produce that can be collected on allotted forest land includes Indian gooseberry, ‘haritaki’ (Kadukai), ‘soapnut’ (Pundhikottai), tamarind, and honey”.
This however, does not make them the owner of the lands. The collector was quoted by DT Next as saying, “While 1,021 individuals belonging to the ST community have been accorded this permission it will only confer rights on them and they cannot ever claim rights to the land they use inside forests.” He further stated that this is for the first time that such rights are granted to the Scheduled Tribe community members.
154 tribals have also been issued the rights on “a community basis”. This means that they will have the right to graze, access to minority forest produce, irrigation system, etc.
They shall further form an expert team to reevaluate the applications for the title rights that were initially rejected. The team shall comprise Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) Arani, District Tribal Welfare Officer (Tiruvannamalai), and Tahsildars for Adi-Dravidar, Tribal Welfare, and Jamanamarathur taluk. According to DT Next, individual forest rights shall then be provided to those found eligible.
Minor Forest Produce under the Act
Under section 2(i) of the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (Forest Rights Act) “minor forest produce” is defined as,
“ ‘minor forest produce’ includes all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the like.”
Further, it appears that Tiruvannamalai administration has conferred rights under section 3(1)(c) of the Act which gives the “right to ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries” to the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
The rights granted to these tribals are different from the land rights defined under Section 3(1)(a) as the right to hold, settlement, and ownership or for self-cultivation for livelihood. This means that individual rights are for habitation or livelihood but community rights also include the right to access water bodies, grazing, or any other traditional personal access. However, since there is no differentiation between community forest resource rights and community land rights by the Ministry for Tribal Affairs, it cannot be understood how many of each are conferred every month.
As per a Press Release by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, in March 2021, under the Van Dhan tribal startups programme, a component of the ‘Mechanism for Marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) through Minimum Support Price (MSP) & Development of Value Chain for MFP’ Scheme emerged as a huge success in the Jawadhu Hills. In 2020, they set up production units which are run by tribals which have touched the production capacity of 1 tonne. Approximately, 17,770 tribals are involved in the process. This has helped in empowering the tribals.
Out of the 80,000 people living in Jawadhu, 98% are tribal which means out of 78,400 tribals, only 17,770 were involved in the Van Dhan scheme which suggests that the government needs to do a lot more for these people. Moreover, the District Collector of Tiruvannamalai in his statement (mentioned above) had said that such rights are being conferred to the Scheduled Tribes for the first time. It is interesting to note that still, in 2021, 17,770 tribals of Jawadhu Hills were reaping the benefits of the Van Dhan start-up scheme.
Tamil Nadu is one of the worst performing states when it comes to conferring forest rights but this step is in the right direction.
In April this year, 158 tribals were given title deeds in the Krishnanagar district of Tamil Nadu.