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Land allocated under FRA in J&K?

The law is moving at a snail’s pace. Tribal Affairs Department should be made Nodal Agency to enforce FRA in J&K
01:03 AM Dec 23, 2023 IST | Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
land allocated under fra in j k
Siddiq Chopan in front of his dismantled house at Zilsidara Jabbad in Budgam
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Mohammad Siddiq Chopan, 65, is a homeless man who belongs to a pastoralist community called Chopans. Siddiq’s family has been living in Zilsidara Jabbad village of Budgam district for centuries. His father and grandfather also lived in this village, he told me. After the Forest Rights Act -FRA got extended to J&K post article 370 abrogation Siddiq was hopeful that he would get the Individual Forest Right-IFR to make a small house on the piece of land he owned for centuries. The Forest Department officials on the other hand have been adamant and they are not allowing this to happen. Under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) not only Scheduled Tribes -STs like Gujjars Bakarwals are entitled to get the benefits but even the non tribals living near forests have all the rights under this law. These people are referred to as Other Traditional Forest Dwellers -OTFDs under FRA. For STs to get entitlement under FRA they should be living in the area for 15 years and for OTFDs like Siddiq Chopan the requirement is 75 years or three generations.

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Siddiq and other Chopan families of Zilsidara have been living in the village for the last 150 years, I have been told, but their Individual and Community Claims under FRA are not accepted and not even a single family out of around 40 households has been given rights under FRA? Siddiq Chopan wanted to make two rooms with bricks, the same was dismantled by the Forest Department he told me. Siddiq claims that said land isn’t even forest land but still he is being harassed?

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I had hopes that I would get the right under FRA as this law became applicable in J&K post 370 abrogation but the ground staff of Forest Department are defeating the process of this law and in fact the land where I had made my hut isn’t a forest land as I have the revenue papers as well. I was entitled to make a house on forest land but I am not allowed even to make a few rooms on my own piece of land. What kind of forest rights is the Govt talking about ?

The benefits of FRA are not reaching to such people in J&K? Even those falling under ST Gujjar or Bakerwal category also have to move from pillar to post to get the benefits. The reason is that the forest department has been assigned the work to implement FRA in J&K while at national level the Ministry of Tribal Affairs-MoTA does this work and in states and UTs the respective Tribal Affairs or Tribal Welfare Departments are nodal agencies to implement FRA. I have been highlighting this issue for the last 4 years but the Govt hasn’t yet acted ?

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Quantum of land allocated under FRA

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The latest report submitted by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs Govt of India is self explanatory as the quantum of land allocated to STs or OTFDs in J&K under FRA isn’t available at all ? Rajya Sabha MPs Dr Syed Naseer Hussain and Dr Amee Yajnik in February this year sought written response from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on the implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 also known as Forest Rights Act or FRA. The MPs sought a response about the number of Individual Forest Rights (IFR) and Community Forest Rights (CFR) claims rejected by the concerned administration in different states and UT’s. In addition, the MPs also sought the number of IFR and CFR claims rejected under the FRA, particularly for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) along with the general grounds on which these applications/claims were rejected ? These MPs also sought information about the number of land allocation / rights granted under FRA to forest dwellers in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the financial year 2021-2022?

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The Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Govt of India Mr Bishweswar Tudu while replying the MPs on the floor of the Rajya Sabha said:

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“As per information submitted by States Governments upto the month of November, 2022 42,97,245 IFR and 1,69,372 CFR claims were received in all the states and UTs except J&K. Out of these 16,88,496 IFR claims & 41,376 CFR claims were rejected. In total 22,49,671 claims were accepted which include 21,46,782 IFR & 1,02,889 CFR claims"

The Minister in his reply said that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs maintains cumulative figures, however, segregated data of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers was not maintained. While citing the reasons for the rejection of claims the Minister said:

“General reasons for rejections of claims as reported by State Governments include non-occupation of forest land prior to 13.12.2005 , claims being made on land other than forest land, multiple claims, lack of sufficient documentary evidence etc. The states have been advised to review the cases where the claims have been rejected and verify that that rejection due to lack of sufficient documentary evidence is examined properly.”

While responding to a question on FRA implementation in J&K , the Minister said that this was being implemented at different stages as the FRA has been made applicable in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir with effect from 2021.

“Cases of recognition of rights had not reached finality during 2021- 22, as reported by the UT Administration. However as reported by J&K Administration, as on 31.1.2023, 4309 cases have been approved for recognition of rights”, he added. It is more than 15 years since Forest Rights Act (FRA) was passed by Parliament in 2006, a majority of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) of the country are yet to receive entitlement under this historic legislation. This is not only the case in J&K but FRA is moving at snail’s pace across the country.

Tripura performing well

In February 2019, the Supreme Court directed eviction of more than one million ST and other traditional forest dwellers from forest lands in 16 Indian states for “wildlife protection. The order was criticized by forest rights activists, forest dwellers and above all by the UN Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights. The Centre finally admitted before the Supreme Court that rejection of claims by state governments were illegal and requested the court to stay its eviction order. On 1st March 2019 , the Supreme Court stayed its own order to evict forest dwellers.

As per the details provided by MoTA to BJD MP from Odhisa Sasmit Patra , Maharashtra had settled 1.72 lakh IFR and 7,084 CFR claims. Madhya Pradesh issued the highest number of 27,976 CFR till August 2021. However, all the 27,976 community claims were settled by the previous Government headed by Kamal Nath that lasted for 15 months. Since then, between March 2020 and August 2021, the BJP Government in MP has settled only 7 or 8 community forest rights claims- CFR claims. From August 2021 to November 2023 more FRA claims were settled in MP but the number is very less. BJP ruled Tripura settled 1.27 lakh IFR and 55 CFR claims. Mamata Banerjee led Govt in West Bengal has a weak report card vis a vis FRA implementation. A massive state like West Bengal has settled mere 45,130 individuals and 686 community claims while a tiny state like Tripura has settled 1.27 lakh Individual Forest Rights -IFR claims. We must appreciate Tripura Govt for this but it needs to work more on addressing community forest rights-CFR claims. In PM’s home state Gujarat, only 95,363 individuals were conferred the rights and 3887 community claims were settled until August 2021. The latest updates are not available with the author.

Conclusion

It is now more than 6 months when the Union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Mr Bishweswar Tudu had responded to two Rajya Sabha MPs Dr Syed Naseer Hussain and Amee Yajnik about quantum of forest land allocated under Individual and Community Forest Rights (IFR & CFR). The figures about J&K were not available ? As per the latest official document of Ministry of Tribal Affairs dated 22nd November 2023 signed by Ms Samidha Singh Director which has been addressed to PMO the details about the quantum of forest land allocated to beneficiaries under FRA in J&K was again not available and the said columns were empty with NA / NR mark (not available or not reported) . This puts a question mark on the Govt’s claims that the Forest Rights Act was being implemented in J&K in letter and spirit?

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow.

He is Founder and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement

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