Forest Act was behind Congress gains in Shimoga, Uttara Kannada

It confers cultivation to tribals in forests; BJP failed to deliver on the Act

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, popularly known as Forest Rights Act was enacted by the Congress-led UPA Government to curb Naxal menace in forests.

The Congress had organised awareness campaigns in the district to sensitise the ryots on submitting applications seeking cultivation rights. When applications were rejected by district administration on technical grounds, Congress activists organised protests at all taluk centres.

The hard work was converted into votes as the Congress managed to bag 10 of the 12 Zilla Panchaytat segments in Shimoga district where bagair hukum farmers form the major chunk of population. The BJP had the mortification of losing the Esur ZP segment in Shikaripur Taluk, Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa’s home turf.

In Uttara Kannada, which too has large number of bagair hukum farmers, the Congress has won 22 of the 36 ZP seats.

According to an estimate, the district has 1.5 lakh bagair hukum cultivators in 600 villages. More than 90 percent of the 82,936 applications submitted in the district were rejected by the officials on the ground that the applicants had failed to furnish documents to prove their rights over the land. The situation is similar in Uttara Kannada, where a mere 2,658 of the 46,600 applications were accepted.

According to the rules framed under the Act, farmers belonging to the Scheduled Tribes can secure cultivation rights by producing documents on dwelling in the forest area before December, 2005. However, the rest of the farmers, even those from Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Class category have to prove the dwelling for the past 75 years or for three generations.

Rigid rules

The conditions laid down in the act for regularisation of cultivation are rigid. As most of the applicants are persons with limited education, they are finding it difficult to establish their claim over the land.

It is difficult to furnish documents proving residence in the area for the past 75 years or for three generations as the process of documentation during British rule was not streamlined.

Besides, as most of the farmers in Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts were displaced due to Sharavathi, Varahi, Chakra, Kali hydro electric projects, it is impossible for them to prove domicile for the past three generations. Unfortunately for the displaced families, when rehabilitated, they were asked to cultivate the land around the dwelling place without receiving the title deeds.

Applications seeking regularisation of cultivation are required to be forwarded through the village level forest rights committees.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written a letter to Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa instructing him to complete the process of formation of village forest committee by 2009. However, the record of the district is poor in this regard.

During the election campaign, BJP leaders had blamed the UPA Government for the delay in issuing title deeds to farmers as the conditions laid down in the Act were rigid.
Although vocal on the issue, the BJP leaders failed to organise sensitisation programmes in hamlets inside the forest and protest meets as the Congress did, and that cost the party dear.

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