Bhopal: Lakhs of forest dwellers in Madhya Pradesh might lose the right to their land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, with the government having accepted only 716 applications out of 3.79 lakh filled by forest dwellers till July 6, 2020.
To speed up the process of land allotment and check corruption, the Madhya Pradesh Government launched the Van Mitra App on October 2, 2019, after a Supreme Court order. All the applications were filled through the app.
According to sources within the state’s Tribal Area Development Planning Department, out of 3.79 lakh applications, 2.85 lakh applications were rejected by the department in 2018-19 due to the lack of documents. There have been 93,507 new applications since.
Department officials claimed that more than 46,000 Forest Right Committees (FRCs) of the state, headed by the gram panchayats of the respective villages, have reviewed 1.33 lakh applications. Of them, they have approved 34,860 applications and rejected 98,742 claims for multiple reasons, while 2.45 lakh claims are pending.
Later, the Sub-Division level committee (SDLC), headed by the Sub Divisional Officer (Revenue) of the respective districts, reviewed 26,529 claims from the total approved FRC applications. They found 6,177 claims to be genuine, and rejected the remaining 20,352 claims.
Another level of pruning followed. Out of the total approved applications of the SDLC, the District Level Committee (DLC), headed by the Collectors of respective districts, have reviewed 2,664 applications and have cleared only 716 claims while rejecting 1,948 applications.
Hence, out of 3.79 lakh claims in the last nine months, only 716 claims of forest dwellers have been cleared. It forms only 0.18 percent of the total received claims till July 6.
Status of claims filled in Van Mitra App till July 6, 2020
Level 1 (Reviewed by Gram Panchayat of respective villages) Percentage
Level 2 (Reviewed by SDO - Revenue of respective districts)
Level 3 (Reviewed by Collector of respective districts)
Note - Data received from Tribal Area Development Planning Dept, Madhya Pradesh.
“The process of filling and reviewing the forest dwellers applications is underway and it is likely to continue till the end of July. Till date, nearly fifty percent of the applications have been reviewed,” said a senior official of Madhya Pradesh Tribal Area Development Planning (TADP) requesting anonymity.
The reviewing of the applications has been taking place at three levels – Firstly, at gram panchayat level (Village), then at SDLC and then finally by the DLC. The department has made a lot of progress and will soon complete entire process, the officer claimed.
Tribal Rights Activists Raise Questions on Review Process
The way the state government and its officials have been dealing with the FRA claims has not gone down well with the tribal rights activists and leaders. They have also questioned the review process for the applications.
Over the past nine months, the Government has only approved 0.18 percent of the applications out of a total of 3.79 lakh total applications “and they are now saying that they will complete the process in a month. How it is this possible, when no gram panchayats have been formed in hundreds of villages?” asked tribal rights activist Madhuri, convenor of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan.
“Out of 1.33 lakh applications reviewed by the Gram Panchayats, 73.9 % of the claims were rejected. This is a shocking figure,” she said. “The high number of rejected applications on the primary level shows that just like previous exercise, the decisions are being made by the officials, not by the gram panchayats. It is no different from the previous exercise,” she added.
Raj Kumar Sinha, another tribal rights activist, said that despite the fact that Section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act prohibits the eviction of any forest dwellers when their application is under review, “the MP Forest officials, however, constantly attack forest dwellers, burn their mud houses, ruin their crops and threaten their lives. This must be stopped.”
Two such incidents have been reported over the past month in the state. The first incident was reported in Burhanpur’s Siwal village, while another was reported in Khandwa’s Bhilaikheda village.
Tribal leader and Congress MLA from Manawar, Hiralal Alawa, said that at a time when the country is fighting a pandemic, “the State Government and its officials are hatching a conspiracy to throw the tribals out of the forest. I have already highlighted the flaws of Van Mitra App to the officials, but reviewing applications without consulting FRCs is unacceptable. We will not let this happen,” he said.
“I will write a letter to Chief Minister Chouhan and urge him to take a look into this matter,” he added.
Pallavi Jain Govil, Principal Secretary of the state’s Tribal Welfare Department and Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary, Iqbal Singh Bains, neither responded to calls nor text messages, despite several attempts.
The Director, Directorate of Tribal Area Development and Planning, Shailbala A. Martin, refused to make an official comment about the issue when NewsClick visited her office.
Claims received by the State Tribal Department before 2018-19 under the FRA-2006 from Forest Dwellers.
The Tribal Welfare Department has received a total of 6.27 lakh applications from forest dwellers, who have been claiming possession of the forest land before 2005, according to the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Based on the data, on February 13, 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of 3.60 lakh forest dwellers of the state from the forest after they failed to prove their claims over forest land.
A few months later, the MP Government filed an affidavit before the Apex court and claimed that the previous process of verifying the proof of forest dwellers was flawed and that the government would review all the applications.
After the nod, the apex court asked the Madhya Pradesh Government to review the claims of all 3.60 lakh applications of forest dwellers (mostly tribals).
The MP Government launched the Van Mitra App on October 2 in a bid to carry out the process of documentation and verification of forest dwellers’ claim on forest lands impartially.
The last date of filling the claims was June 30, 2020, but, officials claimed that they had sought an extension from the Government.
“We have urged for a one month extension for filling of online claims during a recent meeting with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and sent a proposal as well,” said a senior official of Tribal Area Development Planning Department, requesting anonymity.