The BJP has been touting Gujarat as a development model that the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, can take credit for. But the State lags behind in safeguarding the rights of its 15-lakh tribal people, who make up almost 15 per cent of its population.
Mr. Modi has been Chief Minister of the State for over a decade, and it is six years since the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, was enacted to recognise and record the rights of forest dwellers, mainly tribal people. The Act replaced the old colonial-era forest laws to ensure livelihood security of the poor tribal people who have been dependent on forest produce for ages.
But Gujarat has been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribal people and other forest dwellers, show the latest data put out by the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry. Till 2013, the State settled only 32 per cent of the claims, the lowest rate in the country.
The State government received 1.91 lakh claim cases — 1.82 lakh from individuals and 8,723 from the community —, but disposed of just 61,146 (32 per cent). Just 42,752 titles — 40,994 to individuals and 1,758 to community — were issued during this period.
The Hindu sent an e-mail seeking a reply from the Gujarat government about the dismal performance, but no response was forthcoming.
The best performance in settlement of claims — 97 per cent — was of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, followed by Chhattisgarh (96), Madhya Pradesh (93), Odisha (86), Jharkhand (77) and Assam (56).
The Act gives the tribal people the right to hold, and live in, forestland, besides giving them the right to “ownership, access to collect, use and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries.”
The idea behind the Act was to empower tribal people and their community institutions as statutory authorities with the power to protect and manage forests.