General, Ground Report

Land Bank and Forest Rights

By Gladson Dungdung

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A village called ‘Perka’ is situated at Murhu development block in Khunti district of Jharkhand, which is approximately 55 kilometers from Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand. 113 families residing in the village. As per the Census 2011, the village has total population of 581 of which 300 are males while 281 are female. The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis with the population of 550 including 285 males and 265 females. In 2011, literacy rate of Perka village was 66.46 % with Male literacy of 75.20 % and 56.96 % of female literacy.

However, the villagers are unaware about the tricks of the Jharkhand government for grabbing their community, religious and forest land. Here, I would like to focus on the forest land alone because the Forest Rights Act 2006 was said to be the historic legislation to right the historic wrongs done to the Adivasis and other traditional forest Dwellers. As per the land Bank data prepared by the Department of Revenue and Land Reform (Govt. of Jharkhand), three plots of the village forest with the area of 12.14 acres is enlisted in the Land Bank (See Table 1). Interestingly, in 1932 the villagers have been given the forest for their use. This has been officially recorded in the land record in the Khatiyan Part – II. As per the provisions of the forest rights Act 2006, the government authorities should have recognized the rights of the villagers on the village forest.

Table 1. Status of Forest of Perka in Land Bank

Sl. No. Register Number Plot No. Area in Acres
1. 44 1037 5.36
2. 44 392 3.17
3. 44 88 3.61
Total 01 03 12.14

Source: Land Bank, Department of Land Reform and Revenue (Govt. of Jharkhand)

The Adivasis of Perka are shocked to know that their forest is kept in the land Bank data with a clear intention to lease out to the private business entities. 55-year-old Petrus Tiru says, “I have land record papers of 1932, where we have been given right to use the forest. How can government keep our forest in the land Bank?” Another villager, 50-year-old Santosh Soy says, “We have been protecting the forest for more than 20 years. Two villagers keep watch on the forest every day. We also discuss about the protection and minimum use of the forest in our weekly Gram Sabha meetings. How can government take such step without our consent?” In the present circumstance, one needs to understand the history, concept and intention behind the formation of land Bank, which is paving the way to denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.

The state of Jharkhand is popularly known as the land of Adivasis’ struggle. The Adivasis have been resisting to protect their identity, autonomy, culture, languages, land, territory and natural resources for more than 300 years. The creation of Jharkhand as a new state in the political map of India was one of the results of the struggle. After formation of the state, the Adivasi struggle was concentrated on anti-displacement Movement as 74 MoUs were signed by the successive governments one after another within a decade. Fortunately, none of the mega project was materialized. The Adivasis forced the Arcellar Mittal Company, Jindal Company and Tata Steel Ltd to desert the proposed land[1] for their dream steel projects.

However, learning from the past, the new BJP government, formed in 2014, changed the land acquisition strategy. On 31st December 2014, the government through its Department of Revenue and Land Reform issued a circular to the Deputy Commissioners of all 24 districts asking them to conduct survey and prepared a land data incorporating all kinds of land except the private land[2] for the land bank. After accumulation of the land data, the department of Revenue and Land Reform created a new website https://jharbhoomi.nic.in, where 2,097,003.81 acres of land was shown as government land in the land bank.

Finally, Jharkhand’s Chief Minister Rabhuvar Das launched the website of Land Bank on 5th January 2016, which was followed by the signing of 210 new MoUs with the Corporate Houses during the ‘Global Investors Summit’ held at Khelgoan, Ranchi on 16-17 February 2017. Now, the Government has been attempting to acquire the common land, sacred groves and forest land without (free, prior and informed) consent of the communities. For instance, the state government has given 42 acres of so-called government land to the Vedanta company at Dimbuli village near Saranda forest in West Sighbhum district of Jharkhand and the government has been attempting to acquire the private land of the Adivasis for the company against their consent. The government is ensuring the Corporate’s entry to the villages through the land Bank.

Indeed, the land Bank was created with a clear objective to ensure the land to the corporate houses. This was categorically expressed by the Jharkhand’s Chief Minister, Raghuvar Das while speaking to the media on July 27th, 2016. He said, “Land acquisition has never been a challenge for us as we have a land bank of 1,75,000 acres readily available for different industries to set up their businesses. Farmers are ready to give us land as we are paying a handsome price. We currently hold 40 per cent of India’s natural mineral wealth and we are on the way to becoming the power hub of the country by 2019[3] .”

Interestingly, under the tag of the government land, three categories of land data were incorporated in the land bank – 1) common land of the villages including grazing land, play grounds, village paths, etc. 2) sacred groves (Sarna, Deshavali and Jaherthan) and 3) forest land, which entitlements were supposed to be given to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers.

The most surprising aspect of the land bank is that out of 2,097,003.81 acres of land 1,016,680.48 acres of land is forest land, which is 48.4 percent of the total land of the land bank (see Table 2). If we analyze the data of land bank at the district level, Chatra district tops the list with 92.3 percent of the forest land reserved in the land bank. Bokaro secures second place with 90.8 percent and Giridih gets third berth with 72.8 percent of forest land kept in the land bank. However, in terms of area of forest land, Giridih gets the first place with 329,539.12 acres of forest land out of 452,074.26 acres of land of land bank. Simdega secures second position with 244,434.50 acres out of 358,450.52 acres and Gumla acquires third place with 87,082.74 acres of forest land out of 181,222.78 acres of land of the land bank.  

Table 2: Forest land in Land Bank

Sl. No. District Total Plot Area of land in Acre Forest Land
In Acre In %
1 Ranchi 10,327 1,07,677.69 78,256.44 72.68
2 Khunti 5,863 53,387.93 12,888.14 24.14
3 Lohardaga 3,951 14,372.30 9,742.95 67.79
4 Gumla 98,209 1,81,222.78 87,082.74 48.05
5 Simdega 1,10,766 3,58,450.52 2,44,434.50 68.19
6 East Singhbhum 22,151 31,607.71 8,159.21 25.81
7 West Singhbhum 27,041 3,75,662.09 49,922.02 13.29
8 Saraikela 5,609 24,467.66 5,008.71 20.47
9 Bokaro 2,624 21,827.03 19,823.80 90.82
10 Dhanbad 6,504 30,769.46 11,648.14 37.86
11 Ramgarh 574 4,284.94 2,795.72 65.25
12 Kodarma 278 4,128.11 73.38 1.78
13 Hazaribagh 1,973 25,190.21 15,801.12 62.73
14 Chatra 482 6,490.65 5,993.08 92.33
15 Palamu 0 3,005.20 1,668.50 55.52
16 Garhwa 31,319 33,546.72 7,536.10 22.46
17 Latehar 12,508 79,177.25 34,407.49 43.46
18 Dumka 17,308 77,762.05 16,629.96 21.39
19 Pakur 15,460 69,241.36 31,436.90 45.40
20 Deoghar 7,106 43,562.69 15,424.56 35.41
21 Giridih 16,642 4,52,074.26 3,29,539.12 72.89
22 Godda 4,956 23,417.28 5,929.15 25.32
23 Jamtara 9,607 36,086.36 5,803.17 16.08
24 Sahebganj 7,889 39,591.56 16,675.58 42.12
Total 4,19,147 20,97,003.81 10,16,680.48 48.48

Source: Land Bank, Department of Land Reform and Revenue (Govt. of Jharkhand)

This is a gross violation of the section 4(1) and (5) of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which recognizes the individual and community rights over the forest and forest land. It has been categorically mentioned in the section 4(5) that no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete[4]. In fact, the forest rights are denied to the community by enlisting the forest land and community forests in the land Bank.

The land Bank also violates the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension) in Scheduled Area Act (PESA) 1996, which recognizes the self determination of the Adivasis and empowers the Gram Sabha (village council) to manage the natural resources. This is also the violation of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of ‘Odisha Mining Corporation vs Ministry of Forest and Environment and others (c) No. 180 of 2011, which clearly states that the Gram Sabha is the owner of the natural resources, therefore, the common land, sacred groves and forest & forest land of the villages cannot be acquired without the consent of the Gram Sabhas. The formation of the Land Bank is a clear denial of the forest rights to the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, which will also ensure the continuation of the historical injustice.

References: 

[1] Dungdung, Gladson. 2019. Ulgulan Ka Sauda. Ranchi: Adivasis Publications.

[2] Letter of the Department of Revenue and Land Reform, dated 31st December 2014.

[3] https://www.theweek.in/content/archival/news/biz-tech/jharkhand-government-creates-land-bank-for-industries.html

[4] Forest Rights Act 2006, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India)

Article

Proposed amendment to Indian Forest Act would deepen injustice

By Gladson Dungdung

singhbhum-singhbhum-jharkhand-village-saranda-crossing-villager_9cd2a066-43e2-11e9-bbe0-3816edd40ae7The amendments proposed in the colonial-era Indian Forest Act, 1927 reflect the Centre’s attempt to grab natural resources owned by the Adivasis for generations. As per the new draft, forest officials have been given the absolute authority to shoot Adivasis for “violation of laws”[1]. If a forest guard kills a so-called “offender”, the move will invite no prosecution by the state governments without first initiating an inquiry into the matter under an executive magistrate. Under the new amendment, forest departments can also declare any forest as reserved and alienate the Adivasis and other forest-dwelling communities from their ancestral lands.

This will have a terrible effect on the Adivasis, who are struggling for survival. As per the Census data 2011, Adivasis are 8.6% of the total population of India, which is 104 million people. Out of these merely 8.9% of them have shifted to small towns and the cities, and 91.1% of them still live in or near the forests, which clearly means that most of the Adivasi population will be affected if the amendments are enforced.

In India, forest governance has turned significantly democratic in the past few years. Back in 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture had advocated for commercialization of forests ‘at all costs and with disregard to the sustenance of Adivasis in the forests.’[2] The Commission completely denied the rights and privileges of the Adivasis and other forest dweller communities. The Commission also alleged that ‘free supply of forest produce to the rural population and the rights and privileges have brought destruction to the forests and so it is necessary to reverse the process. Based on that, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into being.

However, through the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Centre recognized the symbiotic relationship between Adivasis and forests for the first time. This was then consolidated with the passage of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, when the Centre agreed that historical injustice had been committed and tried to undo the wrong. But with the proposed amendment, the injustice will be deeper.

During the 1980s and 1990s, at least the Centre showed sympathy for the Adivasis, because of which important legislations like FRA and the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), were enacted. But in the past five years, I have noticed that the Indian State has dishonoured these laws by being harsh with Adivasis. If the proposed amendment comes into force, Adivasis will be defenseless while the forest department will be powerful. Earlier, foresters used to allege that Adivasis are Maoists in disguise. After the amendment is passed, the forest bureaucracy will term them as “encroachers” and shoot. It will change the fundamentals of community-driven forest governance. The proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act will deepen the injustice against the Adivasis.

[1] Letter of the Inspector General of Forest Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (Govt. of India) dated 7th March 2019.

[2] Hiramath, S.R. Kaniwalli, Sadanand & Kulkarni, Sharad. pp xxiii.

 

Ground Report

Terror of Eviction from the Forest

By Gladson Dungdung

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On 13 February 2019, the Supreme Court of India while hearing on the Writ Petitions (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors, passed an order for eviction of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act 2006. The Court directed that where the verification/ reverification/review process is pending, the concerned state shall do the needful within four months from today and report be submitted to this Court. Let Forest Survey of India (FSI) make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions and state the positions after the eviction as far as possible[1]. However, on 28 March 2019, the Court stayed its controversial order after the intervention petition was filed by the Central government for modification of the order apprehending its consequences on the general election. The government in its plea said that the forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are extremely poor and illiterate people and not well informed of their rights and procedure under the Act. They live in remote and inaccessible areas of the forest. It is difficult for them to substantiated their claimed before the competent authorities[2] therefore their claims were rejected.

The Court ordered the Chief Secretaries of the state governments to file detailed affidavits covering all the aforesaid aspects and place on record the rejection orders and the details of the procedure followed for settlement of claims and what are the main ground on which the claims have been rejected[3]. The court said that it may also be stated that whether the tribals were given opportunity to adduce evidence and, if yes, to what extent and whether reasoned orders have been passed regarding rejection of the claims[4]. The Court also ordered the Forest Survey of India to make a satellite survey and place on record the encroachment positions as far as possible before the next hearing[5]. In this circumstance, there is an apprehension of eviction of Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers from the forests if the Supreme Court orders to execute its earlier order in forthcoming hearings. There would be eviction of more than 2 million Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers from the forest land and forests. Therefore, we should analysis some cases to understand the impact of eviction. Kudagada is one such examples.

Kudagada is a revenue village comprised of 8 hamlets (Kudagara, Bardanda, Garurpiri, Heso, Fatehpur, Nimdih, Modotoli and Jogitoli) located in the Heso forest, falls under Namkum development block in Ranchi district of Jharkhand. There are 347 households with the population of approximately 1500[6].  The village is dominated by the Munda Adivasis, whose livelihood is based on agriculture and forest produce[7]. The most of the Adivasis own some patches of revenue land and some of them also cultivate on the forest land, which they have prepared for cultivation but don’t have entitlement papers.

When the villagers came to know about the Forest Rights Act 2006, which was enforced to recognize their rights on forest land and forest, they formed a ‘Forest Rights Committee (FRC)’ under the Kudagara Gram Sabha (village council). 36 villagers filed claim forms and submitted to the FRC[8]. The Kudagara Gram Sabha verified the claims and sent those with recommendations to Dr. Sweta, the Circle Officer of Namkum, where most of the claims were rejected and only 6 claims were converted into entitlements with small patches of land.

Interestingly, the claim of the chairperson of the FRC, Purandra Munda was rejected along with 29 others. Munda had filed claim of 1.5 acres of land. The 6 villagers, whose individual rights were recognized and given pattas (entitlement papers) are also upset because the area of land were decreased in the pattas though they have been cultivating and possessing the land for generations. For instance, Bando Munda, who had filed claim on 8 acres of land but given patta of merely 7 decimals of land[9]. Similarly, Somra Munda was given patta of 2 decimals for the claim of 2 acres and Budhram Munda also given patta of merely 2 decimals of land for 2 acres. Bando Munda is upset and angry for denying his rights. He says, “We have been cultivating on eight acres of forest land for three generations but I was given entitlement of merely seven decimals of land. How can my family survive with such small patch of land? This is injustice to me. I’m not going to leave my land.”

The villagers had also filed claim of 700 acres of forest under the community rights but their rights are not yet recognized. The circle officer had asked them to decrease the area of forest in the claim form from 700 acres to 100 acres but they refused to do so therefore, the claim file was deliberately misplaced in the office of CO and they had to file it again. Chairperson of the FRC, Purandra Munda says, “We depend on forest for our survival, therefore, we cannot even imagine our life without forest. We should be given the entitlement of 700 acres of forest, which we have been utilizing and protecting for generations.” In this case, if the SC’s eviction order is enforced, the genuine claimants of the forest rights will not only lose their cultivated land but they will also lose the community forest, which plays a vital role in their economy and entire life cycle. This is the biggest threat to their existence.

The eviction order of the Supreme Court will have adverse effect in the life of more than 2 million forest dwellers mostly the Adivasis of the country. According to the FRA status report as per 30th November 2018, 4,224,951 including 4,076,606 individuals and 148,345 community claims were filed. Out of these claims, 1,894,225 including 1,822,262 individuals and 72,064 community pattas were issued whereas 1,939,231 claims were rejected and 391,495 claims are in pending[10]. Therefore, if the SC’s order is enforced, 1,939,231 families will be chased out of the forests. A billion-dollar question is where will they go? Who will protect their fundamental right to life? The Indian constitution guarantees the right to life to everyone under the Article 21 and the State is duty bound to protect it. Unfortunately, the State has failed to protect the rights of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers primarily because it intends to grab the remaining natural resources (land, forest and minerals) from them and hand it over to the Corporate Sharks.

[1] Writ Petition (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.

[2] https://www.deccanherald.com/national/sc-stays-order-eviction-720787.html

[3] Writ Petition (c) No. 109/2008 Wildlife First & Ors Versus Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dungdung, Gladson. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. Ranchi: Adivasi Publications. Pp151

[7] Ibid. pp152

[8] Ibid. pp153

[9] Ibid. 153

[10] FRA implementation Status Report November 2018. Ministry of Tribal Affairs.