EARLIER THIS month the Madhya Pradesh government created history by distributing 23,000 forest rights pattas (land title) in a single day to deserving tribals. Behind this massive exercise was the VanMitra software, developed by Pune-based Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited (MKCL). While the software solution became functional in Madhya Pradesh, it is yet to be used in the state of its origin.
Two years ago, close to 40,000 tribals took part in a long march from Nashik to Mumbai. Drawing from different parts of the state, early resolution of pending claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, was one of the major demands. Following discussions with the then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, it was decided that pending claims would be resolved in the next six months.
Under the FRA, individual and community rights of forest land are granted to tribals after scrutiny. Gram sabhas sanction individual claims at the village level, while sub-divisional and district-level committees scrutinise claims before they are transferred to individual claimants. On paper, the process looks linear, but claims often get stuck at various levels. Due to this, pending claims crossed the three-lakh mark in 2018.
Following the long march, Ayush Prasad, the then project director of Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP), Ghodegaon in Pune district, mooted the idea for a software solution for quick, efficient, and timely disposal of claims. He had said, “The whole process lacked standardisation and often required frequent and intensive training.” He said hence the software solution was sought to reduce administrative overheads and time required to settle claims.
Pune-based MKCL was tasked to come up with a solution including suitable checks and balances necessary to ensure that claims were disposed of on time. Sameer Pandey, joint managing director of MKCL, said the development of the software saw them consulting senior forest rights activists to come up with solutions that would fit the bill. The software, developed in 17 days, included a log-in facility at the claimant end and access to senior officials to monitor the progress of claims.
While waiting for the state government to deploy the software, MKCL wrote to different state governments asking them to try it out. The software had already undergone repeated testing when the MP government approached MKCL.
“Several meetings took place where the software was customised to meet requirements of the state like making it in Hindi, etc, and then it was deployed,” Pandey said, adding that the results were for all to see when, in one day, 23,000 pattas were distributed to tribals.
Asked about the delay in implementing the solution in Maharashtra, Pandey said the state will soon do the same, and that talks were in the last rounds.