The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities

The Additional Collector’s headquarter here was abuzz even before its gates opened on Monday morning. Around 100 tribals from various villages in the Jawhar tehsil had already queued to begin what they had aptly named as first of its kind ‘RTI Satyagraha’ against the alleged unlawful implementation of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

Ashok Lakhan of Anantnagar from Kogda gram panchayat, heading the queue, was carrying an application which he was about to submit under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Till the evening, around 350 other tribals had joined Mr. Lakhan by filing RTI applications, asking the government for documents related with their claims on forest land.

“As per the provisions in the Act, I had made my claim through village level committee and was later verified by the tehsil level officers using GPS system. But when I was given the title deed two years later, the land given to me was not even 1/4th of my claim.,” he told The Hindu .

Papers available with Mr. Lakhan indicated that his claim on the forest land was checked by government officials on June 23, 2009 using GPS. As per the results, he would get deed for land admeasuring 16,777 sq. mt. When he received the deed on August 10, 2011, the government without giving any reason neither placing the matter for hearing accepted the claim on only 3,500 sq. mt. “We have given all the proof as per the Act, which solidifies my claim on 16,777 sq. mt of land. But it was not considered at all,” he said.

Sakharam Wahut of Ozar from Kharonda gram panchayat, shares a similar story. His claim of six acres was reduced to 300 sq. mts which less than one acre. “They didn’t even come for measuring the land and I was given the deed for 300 sq. mt. What has gone wrong with my land papers and who has done it?” he said.

The said Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities. Those who are cultivating the land prior to December 13, 2005 but do not have the document can claim the land as long as they are cultivating the land for themselves for a livelihood. The upper limit of the claim has been set as four hectares.

Thane district has a large tribal population. The district’s eight tehsils have a majority of tribal population and a large forest area. The complaints of shoddy implementation of the Forest Protection Act, 2006 are not new for this district. Two months ago, angry tribals had burned down title deeds in front of the office of Sub-Divisional Magistrate, protesting on the similar grounds. On Monday, the tribals decided to fight their case in a mature and democratic manner.

The RTI applications filed by the tribals sought all the documents related with individual’s land claim. “As per the Act, the authorities are bound to inform the gramsabha if the claim is not recognised or accepted or found false. In most cases, they have not inform the beneficiary about the same, which they should. So, we want all the documentary evidence from the authorities and once we get that, we will decide our future action,” said Mr. Lakhan. He said nine villages from Jawhar and one village from Vikramgad tehsil participated in RTI Satyagraha on Monday. “Once the news spreads among tribals, more and more villages will join us and force the government to give us answers,” he said.

While there are many who have received less land than the actual claim without being verified, there are many who have made their claim almost five years back, but are yet to hear from the government.

Jayram Toke of Kagda told The Hindu that his family had made the claim for the title deed of his mother’s land in August 2008. “We have followed all the procedures. We have even showed them the receipts of fine levied on us by the Forest Department before the enactment of this law. Our claim is still lying with the authorities. Instead of sitting inside the office, they should come and walk with us on the field. That might change the picture,” he said.

Tain Baban Digha of Hateri had the same complaint. “They just sit in the office and decide how much land to be given to whom,” she said.

  • Nine villages from Jawhar and one village from Vikramgad participated in the RTI Satyagraha

  • There are cases where tribals have exaggerated their claims, we had to reduce the size: Pawar