As Chief Minister Narendra Modi distributed 4,700 land-ownership titles under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) at the Garib Kalyan Mela in Chhota Udepur on Monday,top state officials said a government resolution to similarly allot forest land to communities in non-scheduled areas (non-tribal areas) would be issued soon. However,this is not likely to cover agariyas,or salt-workers.
According to a senior official,the files related to the expected government resolution is currently with Additional Chief Secretary R M Patel,who told The Indian Express that the resolution is being finalised but refused to divulge further details.
The official said the state-level monitoring committee had met in June to discuss,among other things,the Acts implementation in non-scheduled areas. As things stand now,forest land would be allocated not to individual families but to communities for common use,the official said,adding that only fishing and pastoral communities would be eligible to get these lands.
Another senior official said the issue of the Acts implementation in non-scheduled areas has been complicated by financial and administrative problems arising from jurisdiction matters. The Tribal Development Department,which is implementing the Act,does not have jurisdiction over non-scheduled areas,and cannot use its funds for non-tribals.
The official added that the government has asked the Centre to amend the part of the Act that defines other traditional forest dwellers,which the pastoral and fishing communities in non-scheduled areas would fall under.
The Act says these communities should have lived in and used resources from the forest for three generations,one generation calculated as 25 years. But where will we find a 93-year-old person in the forest,since the statement of someone who was not yet 18 when the community began living there would be unreliable, said the official.
Nevertheless,communities in non-tribal areas,especially Kutch,seem to be in no mood to wait for the government to take a decision as a recent meeting of representatives from the government,non-government organisations and communities,which pursue traditional livelihoods,appeared to show.
A joint statement by community representatives issued from Bhuj this Friday said,Around 80 per cent of Kutch has a common land accessed and used traditionally by communities such as maldharis (pastoralists),fishers and salt workers,who have been depending on the ecosystems (forests,mangroves,desert) for their livelihoods…
Gram sabhas of some of the communities have initiated the process of claims under the FRA,but the state government has responded saying that such a process is not valid. This response of the government is in violation of the FRA,which gives gram sabhas the right to initiate the process…, said the statement,adding that the meeting resolved to constitute forest rights committees and initiate the process of making claims under the FRA.
Currently,the FRA is being implemented in 12 tribal districts. But many tribals have been disgruntled by what they perceive to be laggard implementation on the ground,and have periodically taken out rallies and organised dharnas against the rejection of almost 90% of more than 1.5 lakh claims.