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Despite orders, issuance of eviction notices to forest land encroachers stopped in Karnataka

The order copy, accessed by indianexpress.com, reads that the officials were directed not to issue notices to the applicants of FRA till the inspection process is completed.

The FRA 2006 recognises the rights of forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) to forest resources on which these communities depend for livelihood, habitation and other sociocultural needs. (File Photo/Representative Image)

Despite orders from Karnataka Minister of Social Welfare and Other Backward Classes Welfare Kota Srinivas Poojary to commence an inquiry of the encroachment of forest land as per the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963 and 1964, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Land Records) A K Singh asked the divisional forest officials to halt the encroachment eviction operations till the Forest Rights Applications (FRA) applications are settled.

The order copy, accessed by indianexpress.com, reads that the officials were directed not to issue notices to the applicants of FRA till the inspection process is completed. However, he added that the inspection process should be expedited.

Poojary had held the meeting on February 22 while the letter undersigned by Singh was dated April 24.

The FRA 2006 recognises the rights of forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) to forest resources on which these communities depend for livelihood, habitation and other sociocultural needs.

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“To qualify as OTFD and be eligible for recognition of rights under FRA, two conditions are need to be fulfilled: Primarily resided in forest or forests land for three generations (75 years) prior to 13-12-2005, and depend on the forest or forests land for bonafide livelihood needs,” the ministry of tribal affairs states.

However, the officials within the Forest department say that several claims under the FRA are bogus and thousands of applications are pending. “In February this year, out of 97,074 claims received under the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 in Shivamogga, the Tribal Welfare department rejected 44,016 claims. As many as 53,058 claims are still pending with the department. With such orders coming in our way, it is difficult to evict encroachers,” a senior forest official said on condition of anonymity.

Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (head of forest force) B K Singh said encroachments on forest lands have surged to an unprecedented scale after the enactment of the FRA. “Communities which were not in occupation of the forest land before the cut-off date of 13-12-2005 have also occupied lands and subsequently applied for recognition of rights under the Act. Politicians across party lines support them for electoral gains,” he added.

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Offering his insights, he further explained, “The Act provided a list of evidence that could be relied upon in accepting the claims. Usually, District Level Committees (DLCs), headed by district collectors, for finally vesting the rights over the land to a claimant or even rejecting the case, have accepted ration cards and village elder’s statements. Ration cards cannot vouch for occupation of forest land and moreover the states have issued a large number of bogus ration cards to its people.”

He added, “Taking 75 years of occupation in respect of OTFDs into consideration, a village elder should have been an adult in 1930 to certify the same. Whenever the claims were verified with reference to satellite imageries, it was found that the tree growth existed on forest land on cut-off date i.e. 13-12-2005. Bogus claimants cleared tree growths and occupied forest land after the Act came into existence. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs amended the rules in 2012 and said that the claims which are rejected relying on satellite imagery can be reopened and accepted if other evidence supports it.”

Advocate Virendra Patil, who has been fighting cases against the illegal occupation of forest lands in Shivamogga, said, “Encroachers file applications under FRA and till the entire verification process is completed, they enjoy the illegal occupation of forest land.”

First published on: 23-06-2022 at 19:03 IST
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