The Centre will soon set a cut off date for the states to grant tribals and other traditional forest dwellers legal title of the land they have traditionally used.
The sluggish pace at which land titles are being granted to tribals in some states, including the poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, has prompted the Prime Minister’s office to nudge the tribal affairs ministry to set the deadline.
The ministry that monitors the grant of land titles under the Scheduled Tribes and the Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 or the Forest Rights Act (FRA), will set the deadline after the issue was discussed at a review meeting by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August, government sources said.
More than a decade old, FRA was intended to “undo the historic injustice” towards tribal groups by giving them legal titles to forest land and resources. But several states are sluggish in transferring the rights to the tribals, bringing also under scrutiny the Centre’s role in monitoring and giving policy direction that would improve the efficacy of state authorities in granting land rights.
To improve the scenario, the PMO has also instructed the ministry to ensure that local authorities to act fast on complaints by tribals, whose land has been grabbed.
There have been complaints from several states, including Odisha where the land title rests with the tribals, of local strongmen and land sharks taking forcible possession of land belonging to tribals.
The ministry has been asked to ensure speedy land title transfers in the 10 “left wing extremism” affected states, including West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
According to sources in the government, states such as Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh have not transferred any land titles to individuals or communities despite claims being made.
Until May, in Tamil Nadu land rights were not given to any of 18,420 individuals and 3,361 communities who applied for the legal title. In Himachal Pradesh only 53 of the 591 individual applications have been approved, while just 7 of the 659 communities have benefited from the Act.
On the other hand, states such as the poll-bound Odisha and Gujarat, have a comparatively better record of conferring land rights on the marginalised tribes. In Gujarat titles for over 12 lakh acres of forest land have been given while in Odisha the number is over eight lakh acre.
“In Tamil Nadu the land titles were withheld after the Madras High Court in 2008 passed an interim order prohibiting their issue to the tribal communities, after a PIL challenging the Constitutional validity of the Act was filed. But the Supreme Court in February 2015 set aside the interim order. Yet, there has been a holdup,” said an official.
Goa, where none of the 9,372 individual who applied have been given the title, has informed the union government that claims made on land in the coastal regulation zone are yet to be processed on account of objections from the other backward class (OBC) population.
Uttarakhand, which also has not processed any of the 182 individual applications, has said the work was stalled on account of the model code of conduct for elections that were held earlier this year.
Till May 31, over 41 lakh claims have been filed and over 17 lakh titles distributed across the country. “A total of 36,41,540 (87.31%) claims have been disposed of. Soon a deadline will be announced for the states to complete the process within the stipulated time frame,” the official said.
In 2016, HT reported that eight out of 10 claims for land title by forest dwellers under the Act were rejected and the states rejected, on average, 54% of the 3.8 million claims adjudicated since the process began in 2008.