Villagers whose claims were rejected under FRA will have to vacate lands

The Times of India || Vijay Pinjarkar || February 27, 2019

NAGPUR: Stung by the Supreme Court order on evicting forest land in possession of people whose title claims were rejected under the Forest (Rights) Act, 2006, the Maharashtra government has asked forest officials to free such land from the possession of illegal occupants.

On February 22, the state government issued orders to PCCF, APCCF (conservation), district collectors, CCFs and DyCFs asking how many claims under community forest rights (CFRs) and individual forest rights (IFRs) under FRA were received and accepted, and how many rejected. This information will have to be submitted to APCCF (conservation) at Van Bhavan, the state forest department’s headquarters at Nagpur. TOI is possession of the order signed by Sunil Pandre, an under secretary in the forest and revenue department.

APCCF (conservation) Shailesh Tembhurnikar said, “We have asked all chief conservators of forests (CCFs) and deputy conservators (DyCFs) in the state to take action in case of rejected claims. We have to also submit a weekly report on the issue to the government.”

Hearing a bunch of petitions by NGOs, the apex court on February 13 sought to know from the states how much forest land is unauthorizedly in possession of people whose claims have been rejected. An affidavit has to be filed by the states on action taken before July 12, 2019. The next hearing is slated for July 24.

As per the affidavit filed by the tribal development department (TDD) of Maharashtra, a total of 3,71,705 claims were received from scheduled tribes (STs) and other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs) after 2008, when the FRA implementation started.

Of these claims, the district level committee (DLC) rejected 23,054 including 22,763 individuals and 291 CFRs. The total area lost to forest dwellers against rejected claims is 30,732 hectares, but over the years, 7,337 hectares have been vacated and another 23,395 hectares remain to be freed. Tribal activists are protesting against the recent SC ruling.

This is not the first time the court has passed such an order. Three earlier orders of the SC have focused on rejected claims.

The order of January 29, 2019 delivered by a bench headed by Justice Jasti Chelameshwar had said, “If the claim is found to be not tenable by the competent authority, then claimant is not entitled for the grant of any ‘patta’ under FRA. Such claimant is either required to be evicted from that parcel of land or some other action is to be taken in accordance with law.”

In another order on March 7, 2018, a bench headed by Justice Madan Lokur had issued fresh direction to all states to file a tabular statement on claims given and rejected in respect of each category and action taken against those claimants whose claims have been rejected and status of eviction of area from which they have been evicted. The cut-off date for providing this information was December 31, 2017.