Jharkhand launches drive to grant land titles under FRA: Why now, challenges
Context- The Jharkhand government Monday (November 6) started a special drive, titled Abua Bir Dishom Abhiyan, to give land title certificates to individuals and communities under the Forests Rights Act.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, grants the rights of self cultivation and habitation, in the form of Individual Forest Rights (IFR) and Community Forest Rights (CFR). The titles cover areas such as grazing, fishing, access to water bodies, resource access, recognition of customary rights, among others.
The drive has been launched after nine years, and presents some serious challenges.
Why the drive now?
- As per Jharkhand government data submitted in the Supreme Court this year, it received 98,308 IFR and 2,695 CFR applications since the formation of the state in November 2000.
- Out of them, 60,021 IFR titles and 2,013 CFR titles have been given, which translates into 2.17 lakh acres in terms of forest land. As many as 30,906 claims were rejected and 8,333 are pending.
- This is way below Chhattisgarh, the state formed at the same time as Jharkhand, which has managed 9.28 lakh title claims and 5.28 lakh title distributions till June 30, 2023.
- Since the Hemant Soren government won the 2019 election on the ‘Jal, Jungle, Zameen’ plank – and another of its key promises, of a modified domicile policy, is stalled with the Governor — it is working hard to streamline FRA claims generation and titles distribution.
- A dedicated website and mobile application are being set up, where multiple stakeholders can track the application process, verify geotagged land parcels, etc.
How is the government undertaking this exercise?
- Secretary of the Department of Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste, Minority and Backward Class Welfare, Rajiv Arun Ekka, has sent a letter to all 24 Deputy Commissioners for the smooth implementation of the campaign.
- Instructions have been given to form/reconstitute Forest Rights Committee (FRC) at the village level and a monitoring committee at the sub-divisional and district level.
- Last month, the government had ordered DCs to organise Gram Sabhas in all the villages of their district, so an FRC could be formed in the presence of an observer.
- In the next phase, a special Gram Sabha will be held in all the villages from November 1 to 15 with the instruction that in addition to new claims, the FRCs will also need to consider old pending claims or rejected claims.
- The Panchayat Secretary and Head of each Panchayat have been given the responsibility of organising the special Gram Sabha.
- Tribal Welfare Commissioner Ajay Nath Jha, while launching the drive, said: “I went to Chhattisgarh to see why more titles had been distributed there, and found that apart from political will, the district collectors and forest officers played a crucial role. We are focusing on that.”
- In addition, the government needs knowledge and technology partners who have worked in states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, etc. So it is working with the Foundation of Ecological Security (IES), with its partner organisation Phia Foundation in Jharkhand. Another partner is the Indian School of Business(ISB).
What are the challenges?
- On November 6, Deputy Commissioners and Divisional Forest Officers from all 24 districts were present in Ranchi for training on important issues surrounding the implementation of the Act.
- Chief Secretary Sukdev Singh told them: “Some forest officials view forest dwellers as encroachers. If we see them as encroachers, we will not be able to do justice.This mindset has to change.”
- Another source said that the policy level implementation will be a ‘challenge’, as currently, a circle officer and a forest ranger are responsible to verify the claims. “The titles have to be given by the district welfare officer, to whom a circle officer (CO) doesn’t want to report. COs report to the additional collector and it goes up to the Deputy Commissioner of the state. So there is a hierarchical problem.”
- “Then, the state has a dearth of forest rangers. So the process is going to be tough, especially as 2024 will be the election year for both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha in the state,”
Conclusion- Process of removing inclusion and exclusion errors in awarding titles under FRA constitutes a humongous task. Sticking to the core spirit of forest conservation by involving tribals and other stakeholders should guide the way forward.
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Source- Indian Express