Madhya Pradesh: Tribal department overlooks Forest Right Act, orders land settlements without evidence

Indore: MP's forest land is doomed and less likely to exist for long if the strange and careless behaviour of Madhya Pradesh Tribal Welfare Department (MPTWD) continues. Recently, the department send out an order to the Satna collector instructing not to reject forest claims even if there is no photo evidence.

Further, the department said that the satellite image will only be used to validate the claim and no claim will be invalidated due to satellite imagery. If these orders are followed, then thousands of hectares of forest land will be lost, explained legal activist Abhijeet Pandey.

Pandey raised a complaint against the order citing ‘Section 12A (11) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 and Rules 2007 made thereunder. The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India i (h) is not explained in the said order.

“According to 12A (ii), any committee will use satellite imagery to decide claims and according to Rule 13 satellite imagery will be used as evidence in the determination and decision of claims, In a similar case, Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat has given the decision in Petition No. 100/2011 dated 03/05/2013 that satellite imagery can be used in all claims related to forest rights,” Pandey wrote in his complaint against the order to Chief Minister, state government and forest department.

He urged the department to study the decision of usage of the satellite image and the said Gujarat High Court in advance in view of the above interests and protection of forest land.

The said order would not only adversely affect the environment, but the green cover of MP will soon become history in the days ahead. “With such orders in place, encroachments are bound to increase and eventually finish existence of forest land in the state,” Pandey said.

Following the complaint, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) BB Singh issued orders stating the requirement for satellite photographs and other essentials for forest claims in MP.

Encroachments continue to rise, settlements continuing since 15 years

In 2006, India passed a law called the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, more commonly known as the Forest Rights Act, which recognised the rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers to live and cultivate on forest lands.

According to the act, the occupation of forest land should be prior to December 13, 2005, for recognition and vesting of forest rights.

For being eligible for recognition of rights under FRA, three conditions need to be fulfilled - primarily residing in forest or forests land for three generations (75 years) prior to December 13, 2005, depending on the forest or forestland for bona fide livelihood needs and must have occupied forest land prior to December 13, 2005.

Since the last 15 years, encroachments continue to rise and the amount is still being settled in the state. Despite the law stating that land occupied before 2005 must be settled, the encroachments continue to rise and demand forest land claims in state.

Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by wildlife groups, ordered the eviction of all forest dwellers in India, whose claims under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected.

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