Five reasons why claims by forest dwellers for their land are low – and rejections are high

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of more than 10 lakh families of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers from forestlands across 16 states. The order came while the court was hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The petitioners had demanded that state governments evict those forest dwellers whose claims over traditional forestlands under the landmark law had been rejected.

…In the days since the ruling, tribal activists have denounced the order while some conservationists and bureaucrats in the forest service have welcomed it. A key part of their defence? According to the judgement, a total of 18.8 lakh titles have been granted under the Forest Rights Act, while 19 lakh claims have been rejected. In a statement released on Thursday, Wildlife First said all 19 lakh rejected claims were bogus. It said: “The Supreme Court is focusing only on recovery of forest land from bogus claimants whose claims stand rejected.”

The answer to these contrasting perspectives lies in how the forest rights act is being implemented — how are claims submitted and how are they processed? This report, a followup to what I filed shortly after the judgement was posted online, takes a closer look at those processes. The answer, in short, is that all rejected claims do not indicate bogus claimants. Do read.

Centre’s weak legal defence of forest act means ten lakh families could be evicted, say activists

On February 13, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to evict over 10 lakh forest-dwellers whose claims over forestland have been rejected, a direction that will hurt some of India’s most vulnerable people.

The order came in a case on the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act, which was passed in 2006 aiming to “recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in 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”.

The harsh direction was possible, allege Adivasi activists and lawyers, because the lawyers of the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs mounted a weak defence of the Act. The case has dragged on for over 10 years under multiple benches, with the Supreme Court yet to answer questions on constitutional validity of the law.

There is an incredible suboptimality here. Some of the claims by the petitioners are indeed valid. As are the concerns of the tribal activists. And so, right now, I am just sitting around holding my head thinking about the hideous complexity of it all and, equally, the casual ease with which both the tribal ministry and the Supreme Court are approaching this question.

Missing in the panel set up to frame India’s new mineral policy: Adivasis, ecologists, civil society

Does the KR Rao Committee ring a bell?

It was set up last month by the Union Ministry of Mines after the Supreme Court’s tough judgement on illegal iron ore mining in Odisha. Disposing of a petition filed by the non-profit Common Cause, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta not only ordered the Union government to recover the full value of iron ore mined illegally by the mining lease owners, it also asked it to review India’s mining regulations.

These regulations have failed to arrest illegal mining in the country as is evident in several cases across India – for instance in Karnataka and Odisha, as well as Goa, where the Supreme Court imposed a ban on iron ore mining in 2012, and Tamil Nadu, which has seen rampant illegal sand mining for several years. They have also failed to mitigate the social and environmental consequences of mining. Indeed, there are glaring economic inequalities in India’s mineral-rich districts. Communities living close to the mineral reserves teeter at the edge of destitution and battle environmental pollution even as a handful of politically-connected people amass extraordinary riches.

The Supreme Court therefore directed the Centre to set up an expert committee, chaired by a retired judge, to identify the regulatory lapses that allowed illegal mining. It also directed the Union government to review the National Mineral Policy, 2008, in order to bring in greater transparency, environmental protection and more social and economic growth.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Mines set up the KR Rao Committee on August 14. The committee is expected to submit its report on October 31. Its composition, however, raises questions on whether India’s mining sector will see a fundamental overhaul or more of the same.

The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha now face a more formidable enemy than Vedanta

Two years ago, when the tribal people of Odisha’s thickly forested Niyamgiri hills unanimously rejected the plans of the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in their lands, it appeared that a decade-long struggle to protect the hills and forests – and the tribal way of life – had finally succeeded.

But that might have been a case of premature celebration. Fear and anger are again stalking the hills.

Security camps of the Central Reserve Police Force have been mushrooming in this part of Kalahandi district. From one camp established five years ago, there are now three on the periphery of Niyamgiri. More are expected to come up.

Government officials cite rising Naxal activity as the reason for the security buildup. But among the tribal Kondhs, the increased paramilitary presence is leading to fears that the government is trying to force them off their land.

the reconfiguration of the nicobars

revisiting the overloaded archipelago

at the mayabunder jetty. (the photo sums up my life with almost literal exactness. a beautiful planet, anthropogenic activity, dead biodiversity – that is a dead sea krait at the bottom of the photo – and me watching biodiversity haemmorrage away)

for a while now, i have been trying to go on a cycle ride at the end of every year — have succeeded three out of four years. in 2014, biologist vidya athreya and i went to the andamans. and i came back and wrote this story about cycling up the islands.

The friend is a biologist curious to see what the forests in this archipelago are like — the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were connected to what is now Indonesia before rising sea levels cut them off. As such, not only are life forms on the isles closer in origin to Indonesian than Indian ones, their geographic isolation has resulted in the creation of several species unique to them. As for me, I am looking to get into shape. This is also my second trip to the islands — the first was a reporting assignment in 2004 just before the tsunami. The ride is a chance to see how the patterns I spotted then – water shortages, over-population, and decimation of the indigenous people – have unfolded since.

on the whole, not much has changed on how we manage the islands. see this 2004 story. also see this article, by biologist tr shankar raman, about travelling along the ATR.
ps: the link is to a pdf of the page. my colleagues at et — anirban, manoj, kamal, sunil and amrit — have consistently designed stunning pages for my full page stories. this is just the latest in a long chain. if you want the online version of the article, go here.

is the forest rights act being implemented well? (the answer is ‘no’)

Last month, union tribal Minister Jual Oram told the Lok Sabha that India is making “satisfactory progress” implementing the “Forest Rights Act” (FRA). However, a closer look at the numbers he submitted in the house indicates otherwise.
my story on how the government’s claims about “satisfactory” implementation of the forest rights act are garbage. what is underway is a game with statistics.