An activist working for the rights of the tribals with JagritAdivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) in Burhanpur Madhya Pradesh, during a field visit has highlighted the misuse of the Van Mitra portal — which was created to facilitate the review of rejected claims, has now become a tool to fraudulently reject claims of Tribals.
About the scenario:
On February 13, 2019, in a matter pertaining to the constitutionality of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA), the Supreme Court of India (SC) directed the states to evict those FRA claimants whose Individual Forest Rights (IFR) claims were rejected.
The apex court had ordered the eviction of 1,191,273 tribals across 20 states of the country.
It is an online portal launched by Madhya Pradesh government in 2015.
The individuals who file the claims through the Van Mitra portal are generally illiterate or have little formal schooling with no familiarity with the world of the internet.
They approach the MP Online kiosk operators to help them fill up the application.These kiosk operators charge 200-Rs 500 to fill up their forms when the state government already pays them Rs.60 just to fill up the form to help the ST and OTFDs file the claims.
Secondly, they upload documents without properly reading them, often mixing up different individuals’ documents and printing out the receipt.
Role of Forest Rights Committee (FRC):
The FRC is supposed to verify the claim and then ask for Gram Sabha’s recommendation before forwarding it to the sub divisional level committee (SDLC).
But what is happening on the ground is far from the set guidelines.
The Forest Rights Act:
The Act seeks to act as an extension to the mandate under the Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India that seeks to protect ingenious communities.
It also envisages encouraging local self-governance at the level of the inhabitants.
The Act guarantees rights for forest dwellers within different categories. Firstly, for the usage of forest resources – Section 3(1) (c)guarantees the forest dwellers the right to use minor traditionally obtained forest resources like tendu or herbs.
Who is a forest dweller?
The Act also explains what it categorizes as a forest dweller. There are two important stages for the determination of the definition.
The first stage involves conditions that are supposed to be satisfied to qualify as a forest dweller –
The person(s) should inhabit forests or forest lands.
The person should be bonafide dependent on the forest, its land, and resources for their livelihood.
The second stage involves proving the following –
Section 2 (o) of the Act stipulates that the aforementioned conditions of stage 1 need to be true for seventy-five years, a period which will deem a person as an Other Traditional Forest Dweller.
Section 2 (c) of the Act provides that the person is a member of the Scheduled Tribe.
Section 4 (1) of the Act provides that the person is a resident of an area where they are scheduled. In the latter case, the person has deemed a Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribe. These sections make it very clear as to whom these rights are for and who can be called a forest dweller in order for the rights to be guaranteed to them.
Issues faced by forest dwellers:
Poor implementation remains
Many tribal communities still have not been granted their traditional rights over the forests.
Lack of awareness among the forest dwellers
Unfair rejection of claims
Lack of intent and cooperation on the part of the bureaucracy to transfer authority to the forest dwellers.
Lack of official and credible data available about the forest dwellers and resources
Illegal encroachments and seizure of forest lands by the administration
The majority of the forest dwellers claimed land measuring not more than one acre (Ceiling under FRA- 4 hectares)
Farming is not allowed in a normal way, a slight sound demurs
The use of fertilizers is banned, and even a small knife is not allowed to be carried into the forest.