Tribals in Rajasthan decry the lax implementation of PESA Act and Forest Rights Act to safeguard their rights following land acquisition

Tribals evicted by the Mahi and Kadna dam projects had to surrender their land at dirt cheap rates — just a few hundred rupees per bigha. They were asked to resettle on land whose legal entitlement was not clear. On some of this land other tribal families were already living and cultivating — hence creating a situation of conflicts among the tribals. With the passage of time, the number of these evictees has grown, but they continue to suffer from neglect and deprivation.

This story is few years old but keeps repeating itself as thousands continue to be displaced by mines, highways, industrial projects, urbanisation and national parks. The Kumbhalgarh National Park project in Rajasthan alone could displace 128 villages in three the districts of Rajsamand, Pali and Udaipur.

These and several other instances of loss of land by tribal communities were narrated by representatives of victims at a public hearing on land-alienation among tribals held recently in Jaipur. Organised jointly by the Rajasthan Adivasi Adhikar Sangathan (RAAS) and Jungle Jameen Jan Andolan (People's Movement for Forests and Land), this event witnessed a gathering of tribals from all parts of Rajasthan.

Victims and activists together pointed out that often the acquisition of land is in excess of real needs. Powerful land mafias have emerged in various parts of the State having very high-level political connections; they gobble land at a very brisk pace whenever they see a possibility of steep rise in land prices in the near future. So, the actual loss of land by tribals is much beyond any essential ‘development’ need.

Activists alleged, giving many specific examples, that the letter and spirit of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) is being violated on a large scale. The officials who were present in the public hearing's panel did not challenge this view.

Statistics collected from various parts of Rajasthan revealed that a large number of claims made by tribals and ‘other forest dwellers' had been rejected. In fact, all claims made by the second group were summarily rejected. In some districts, the proportion of accepted claims was negligible. In the case of claims made for collective or community rights, mostly there have been rejections only.

Activist Mangey Lal pointed out that contrary to the existing laws, the role of gram sabhas in the entire process has been devalued while the role of forest officials has been enhanced. He said that when land claims are rejected, the concerned families are not informed; thus they cannot even appeal.

Activist and lawyer Ramesh Nandwana alleged that the percentage of properly accepted claims is lower than what appears in official figures. If a tribal was cultivating five bighas of land earlier but his claim for only two bighas is accepted, it is being treated generally as an accepted claim while actually the tribal family has lost more than half of the land cultivated earlier. If a proper classification is made, he added, just about 10 per cent of the claims have been actually accepted.

RAAS activists argued that if the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, 1996, had been properly implemented, this would have strengthened the gram sabhas and contributed to better implementation of laws like FRA. While rules of this law were not prepared for several years, now that they have been framed, some of these rules are in contradiction with the protective provision of the PESA Act.

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