At a time when political parties are competing among themselves to be seen as the champions of tribal cause, the indigenous groups in Odisha have gradually lost possession over their land, a precious resource for their survival.
A draft report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has laid bare as to how land held by tribals in Odisha has decreased by 12% in a decade while land belonging to Scheduled Caste has recorded growth in the same period.
The CAG has taken 10-year period from 2005-06 to 2015-16 for studying landholding pattern in the Odisha. Total State’s operational land area had shrunk from 50.19 lakh hectare in 2005-06 to 46.19 lakh ha as far as agriculture is concerned.
“During the same period, landholding area of SC and others have registered increase in 2015-06 compared to 2005-06, but that registered decrease in case of tribals. In 2005-06, 17.48 lakh ha of total operational land was held by tribals, that decreased to 15.38 lakh ha in 2015-16 registering a decrease by 2.10 lakh ha (12%),” the apex audit agency finds.
As per 2011 Census, the tribal population of the State is 95.91 lakh constituting 22.85% of total population of the State and 9.20% of India’s tribal population. There are 62 tribal communities including 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups in the State.
Odisha has the third largest concentration of tribal population in the country after Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. As many as 119 out of 314 blocks have been declared as scheduled areas. As of March 2022, 44.70% of State’s geographical area is scheduled areas. The purpose of declaration of scheduled area is to preserve the tribal autonomy, their culture and economic development to ensure social, economic and political justice and preservation of peace and good governance.
The CAG had taken up the study stating that ST population was one of the socially vulnerable groups who needs socio-economic support of the State for their development. “Both State and Centre had enacted several legislations for their protection. Their livelihood basically depends upon forest produce and farming. Therefore, their own land as well as public land of their localities is the main sources of their sustenance,” it said.
The CAG pointed out that district and tehsil-wise distribution of landholding by tribals was neither maintained by Revenue and Disaster Management department or SC and ST Development department nor by tahasils.
It studied six southern and northern Odisha districts where it was found that 9.27 lakh hectare area held by 7.53 lakh tribals came down to 8.44 lakh hectare of land while population marginally rose to 7.98 lakh between 2005-06 and 2015-16.
“In case of tribal population, despite implementation of Forest Right Act since 2005-06 and restriction on sale of their land to non-ST persons, decrease in their land holding is suggestive of the fact that larger chunk of their land might have been acquired by government for public purpose,” the audit agency suspects.
Odisha government had enacted Odisha Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immoveable Property (OSATIP) (by Scheduled Tribes) Regulation, 1956, amended in 2000 in order to prohibit transfer of land belonging to tribals to non-tribals with effect from September 4, 2002.
The provision of Act says a non-tribal in possession of agricultural land acquired from tribal person between October 4, 1956 and September 4, 2002 should have to furnish a declaration to competent authority stating circumstances and manner of possession of land. The declaration had to be furnished within two years from September 4, 2002. In case, the declaration is found to be unsatisfactory or the possessor fails furnish declaration, the agricultural land should be reverted back to original tribal owner.
“In absence of fixation of time limit for disposing of cases filed under OSATIP Regulations, out of total 2134 pending cases, 1347 cases remained pending beyond 10 years and 391 cases were pending for 6 to 10 years,” the CAG finds.
The agency further pointed out, “In 20 test-checked cases involving 66.57 acres of land, despite receipt of enquiry report from the Tahsildar between July 2008 and September 2021, the cases had not been disposed of by the Sub-Collector concerned.”