11, Aug 2022 | CJP Team
As many as 16,000 claims filed under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, have been rejected in just two regions of Karnataka – Sagar and Shivamogga, reported the Indian Express. This puts into jeopardy the lives and livelihoods of Karnataka’s Adivasis (indigenous tribal communities) and other forest dwelling people, who depend on forest land and other forest produce to sustain themselves.
Whose rights does the FRA recognise?
The FRA 2006 enables traditional forest dwelling communities to apply for claims to land and forest produce upon which they have been dependent for their livelihood for generations. The Act recognises the rights of two types of forest dwellers –Adivasi or tribal communities, many of which as included in the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD). While the STs are those who consider this their ancestral and traditional habitat, and depend on forest resources for livelihood, the OTFDs are those who have primarily resided in and depended on the forest land for livelihood needsfor at least three generations prior to December 13, 2005.
Among its four pillars of action, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, is one. CJP, with its expertise in navigating cases of human rights violations in the courts and beyond has been active on the issue; partnering with the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) since 2017 to battle any setback to these rights in the courts. This includes legally fighting back against malicious prosecution of leaders of the community and defending the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the Supreme Court. We stand with the millions of Forest Dwellers and Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. Please support our efforts by donating here.
Members of the above recognised communities have to go through a tedious application process to stake claim to land and forest resources. Often, they file claims as a community instead of individually. The All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), which is a partner organization of the CJP, has been helping Adivasis file these community land claims in different states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh among others.
Rejection of land claims
The large-scale rejection of claims is, however, not unprecedented. It is noteworthy that in February, Indian Express had reported that over 44,000 FRA claims had been rejected in Shivamogga alone.At that time, deputy director of tribal welfare Ajjappa had told the publication, “We have received 97,074 applications of which 44,016 were rejected. This is the status as of January 31. However, those whose applications were rejected can again appeal within 90 days or else the forest department will evict them.”
Now, in fresh developments, the publication quoted data from the tribal welfare department till July 2022, and reported that out of the total 16,424 applications filed in Sagar, only 505 were approved and 4,993 were rejected, leaving 10,926 applications pending. Similarly, out of the 19,191 applications filed in Shivamogga, 11,982 were rejected and only 236 approved, leaving 6,973 pending.
The only recourse now for those whose applications have been rejected, is to appeal before sub-divisional level committees (SDLC) within 90 days.
Why are claims rejected?
According to authorities, there is large scale encroachment on forest lands and people allegedly file false claims, leading to a large number of rejections. There is reportedly an area of 27,918.06 acres of forest land that is presently encroached upon. They also say that often, there are also duplicate claims and people engage in deforestation to stake claim.
Former principal chief conservator of forest (head of forest force), Karnataka, BK Singh had told IE earlier this year, that after the enactment of the FRA, large scale deforestation for claiming the titles took place in Shivamogga, Kodagu and Haveri districts. He said, “Many false claims under FRA were manufactured. Trees were cleared, burnt and claims have been filed. If the satellite images of relevant periods are compared, the facts will come to light. It has been observed that once the claims are rejected, fresh applications are filed and cases are reopened.”
Readers would also recall that on February 13, 2019, the Supreme Court had ordered the eviction of forest dwellers whose claims had been rejected, though the order was stayed shortly thereafter on February 28, 2019. In fact, two grassroots women forest rights defenders – Sokalo Gond and Nivada Rana had moved Supreme Court, filing an intervention application in the existing Wildlife First case, with the backing of AIUFWP and CJP, demanding protection from such evictions for Adivasis and forest dwellers.
Meanwhile, political interests are also at play with local politicians stepping in to denotify forest lands in a bid to allegedly regularise encroachment for vote-bank politics. But then again, the definition of who is an “encroacher” and who is a “traditional inhabitant” also often depends on the political leanings of who is telling the story. What remains consistent in all stories though, is that those who suffer most are people hailing from historically backward, oppressed and marginalized communities, who first suffered under the British and now continue to suffer as pawns on a political chess-board. And yet somehow the complex situation is often reduced to an over-simplified version of the “environment vs. development” debate.
The New Indian Express had reported as far back as in January 2018, that from 2015 to 2017, out of the 3,095.17 hectares of forest land denotified in Karnataka, more than 70% was in Shivamogga district. Though a sizable chunk of this land was used to rehabilitate persons displaced due to the Sharavathi hydropower project. However, what added to the confusion was how a large number of the survey numbers of denotified land fell in the reserve forests of Kardibetta, Masaruru, Mallanduru, Kyasanuru, Mysavi, Bellanduru, Kudi, Handravathi, Suduru, Annagere and Gillalagundi, the estate forests of Puradallu, Kumadavathi and Shankar, the Anupinakatte Minor Forest, and the state forests of Anesara, Avinahalli, Ulluru and Oruve.
According to The Hindu, a total of 22,698 families were displaced by the project commissioned in 1964 and were rehabilitated on 13,067 acres of forest land.
Image Courtesy: downtoearth.org.in