Updated: September 14, 2021 7:25:19 am
Karnataka ranks ninth in terms of approving applications filed by the Scheduled Tribes (ST) and the Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The state has so far received a total of 2,81,349 applications from the communities till February this year pertaining to 16,073 acres, of which 1,80,956 claims were rejected.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 recognises the rights of forest-dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other sociocultural needs.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Chief Wildlife Warden Vijaykumar Gogi told The Indian Express that while most applications filed by STs have been settled, that is not the case with pleas submitted by those from OTFD communities. “The sole responsibility of accepting the applications is not just with the Forest Department, District Committees too look into this,” he said.
The Gram Sabha is also a highly empowered body under the Act, enabling the tribal population to have a decisive say in the determination of local policies and schemes impacting them.
Under the Forest Rights Act, OTFDs need to prove antecedents of three generations or 75 years of ownership of forest land prior to 2008 to claim rights over the forest land. Officials said many applications were rejected over lack of documents, while several claims were bogus.
According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Andhra Pradesh tops the list when it comes to clearing applications from the communities seeking rights over forest land, followed by states like Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa and Gujarat which have expedited the process.
Former PCCF (head of forest force) BK Singh said the FRA has been misused and communities have rushed to file claims. Politicians across party lines have interpreted FRA as a land distribution exercise and have fixed targets for districts, he said. “This has led to deforestation. In Karnataka, a wave of illegal occupation of forest lands took place after the Congress government came to power in 2013,” he said.
“Shivamogga became the most vulnerable district with rampant encroachments. Large-scale deforestation for claiming land titles took place in Shivamogga, Kodagu and Haveri districts. “Many false claims were created after promulgation of FRA,” Singh said.
Environment lawyer Veerendra R Patil said that in proceedings conducted by district-level committees formed under the FRA in March, October 2015 and in July 2016, it was found that more than 2,500 acres of forest land had been granted to ineligible persons in Shivamogga and over 29 acres of reserve forest land was given to a family which already had sufficient land.
“The Upa Lokayukta report dated February 28, 2018, said that in Shivamogga circle alone as many as 51,892 cases were registered for the encroachment of 86,161.81 acres of forest land,” Patil pointed out.