Dubbed as ‘‘encroachers’’ on their own land, millions of tribals can now heave a sigh of relief as efforts are underway to bring in a legislation that would recognise their rights on forest land and on minor forest produce.
‘‘The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, which is likely to be tabled in the forthcoming Budget session of Parliament, has gone to the select committee, which is supposed to clear it shortly,’’ Tribal Affairs Ministry Secretary Meena Gupta said.
‘‘Very little has been done to settle the tribals in the forest area, which has been their abode for ages. They have been treated as encroachers and often harassed by forest officials,’’ Gupta said, adding that the issue had led to unrest in many parts of the country.
The draft national policy on tribals prepared by the ministry said nearly 85.39 lakh tribals have been displaced until 1990 on account of some mega developmental projects.
The Indian Forest Act 1927 has the provision for giving ‘‘patta’’—record of right—to these people, but very few people have been provided with ‘‘patta’’ she said.
According to a report of the forest and environment department, she said that out of 7.4 million hectare of forest land, 1.3 million hectare of land has been ‘‘encroached’’ upon by these people. Only 3.65 lakh hectares of land has been regularised in the name of the tribals over the years.
Nearly 70 per cent of the ‘‘encroached’’ land is under the ‘‘possession’’ of tribal people, Gupta said.
The new Bill proposes to treat October 25, 1980, as thecut-off date and families dwelling in forest land prior to this date would be recognised as cases for granting legitimate rights over the land, Gupta said adding that the particular date was fixed as the the forest conservation act was passed on that day. The new law would enable the tribals to put forth their claims before the village committee in support of their residential status in the forest area.
They would submit proof - any police case, forest case or any other document– to support their claim that they have been living in that area for generations till the cut-off date. The village committee, after scrutiny, would recommend their cases to a three-member sub-divisional committee.