Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has directed the Forest department and the deputy commissioners to immediately dispose of the applications of tribals and non-tribals under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2005.
The Act seeks to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation of forest land in forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations, but whose rights could not be recorded.
Forest department officials, however, say it is not possible. According to the FRA, tribals and non-tribals staying in forest areas should first be recognised, they point out.
“Those in the forests are allowed to stay and continue with their agricultural activities, but cannot claim rights over the land,” an official who didn’t wish to be named said, terming the direction by the government as a populist move aimed at garnering votes.
Forest Minister Ramanath Rai said that over 40,000 applications from tribals and 1.65 lakh applications from non-tribals were pending.
“The officials have been directed to ensure that applicants produce at least two of the 13 listed documents establishing their identity. They should also ensure that applicants have stayed for at least 75 years on the land or for the last three generations. The chief minister has directed them to speed up the clearances,” the minister said.
According to the Forest department, over 90% of the applications are from Shivamogga, North Karnataka and the coastal region. “The FRA contradicts the tribal relocation programme. If applications are cleared, none of the tribals would want to come out of the woods. Already, the tribal relocation programme has slowed down. Through FRA, the government is certifying encroachers,” another officer said.
Forest department records show that they have received a total of 3.01 lakh applications, of which 46,639 are from tribals, 2.49 lakh are from other forest dwellers (OFD) and 5,365 from communities. From 2013, the department has cleared 12,851 applications, of which 1,125 are by tribals and 1,168 are from the OFD and 428 by communities. The department has rejected 31,236 requests of tribals, 1,30,117 applications by the OFD and 1,981 applications from communities. Most of these applications were rejected as they were not genuine claims.
“The applicants and politicians are very interested in getting the OFD applications cleared. Only 0.5% of the applications are genuine and if the directions of the government are implemented in total, three lakh acres of prime forest land will be lost,” the official pointed out.