Land distribution to tribals under the provisions of the Forest Rights Act will be completed in three phases by January next. Steps will be taken to restore the alienated land of tribals as per the legislation enacted by the State Assembly in 1999.

Briefing reporters about the decisions of a high-level meeting here on Wednesday to review the steps taken to implement the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, Minister for Welfare of Scheduled and Backward Communities A.K. Balan and Revenue Minister K.P. Rajendran said it had been decided to distribute 25 per cent land in November, 50 per cent in December and the remaining 25 per cent in January 2010.

The Survey Department has a trained force of 480 personnel. They will start the survey work. The Forest Rights Committees and district-level committees too will function on a war-footing to scrutinise the 28,500 applications submitted for land by the tribals.

Defective applications

Most of the applications were found to be defective. Tribals who were eligible for one acre of land had applied only for 5 to 10 cents.

Hence, it has been decided to engage promoters to create awareness of their eligibility and secure fresh applications till mid-October. As per the Act, they would get the powers to collect minor forest produce from the forests.

Similarly, the Supreme Court that partly upheld the Kerala Restriction on Transfer by Restoration of Lands to the Scheduled Tribes Act, 1999, has said that the State government should take necessary steps within six months to restore the alienated land and distribute it to the tribals. The Ministers said the farmers who possess tribal land will get protection to hold up to 5 acres, but if they have more than the prescribed limit, they will have to surrender it.

To avoid conflict

Even after learning that the farmers had encroached upon tribal land, the government has taken the decision to give protection to 5 acres to avoid a confrontation between the farmers and the tribals. Restoration of the alienated land should not be under coercion, but should be a voluntary process, they said.

As per preliminary estimates, 71 farmers in Wayanad and 206 farmers in Palakkad were holding more land than the prescribed limit. The government will have to identify around 5,000 acres of land to meet the commitment. Revenue Divisional Officers have been directed to take follow-up steps in a fortnight, they said.