Ten years after he first filed his claim under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), Tentulipadar forest rights committee president Jama Majhi is still waiting for a paper declaring his right over a piece of land. The FRA’s enactment in 2006 had raised hopes that the land they have tilled for generations would be recognised as belonging to them, that they would be treated no more as ‘encroachers’ on their own land.
In October 2014, however, Jama was detained at the local forest range office for two days before being sent to jail. He was accused of felling 15 teak plants. Earlier, in 1991, the same allegation—‘illegal tree felling’—had got Jama’s father three months in jail before the high court intervened. This time, his sister was also detained, but set free the next day.
Jama was released only after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) intervened. It also ordered the state to pay Rs 10,000 each in compensation to Jama and his sister.
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Tentulipadar is on the outskirts of the Karlapat sanctuary—out of bounds for the local Adivasi population—in Odisha’s Kalahandi district. Cases of arrest of Adivasis collecting forest produce for their livelihood abound in the area and they lived in constant fear of being dispossessed of their land. Now with the FRA’s legal force on their side, their struggle for their land continues.
“How long can they deny us our due? It is only a matter of time,” says Jama, who filed a second claim in 2016, followed it up with local officials of the forest and tribal welfare departments and the collector, besides the district level committee (DLC) for implementation of FRA. A joint team of officials that visited Tentulipadar in December 2016 said in its report that the villagers tilled only 15 acres, but Jama claims it is close to 100 acres. Jama filed a review petition and there the matter has stood since. Dillip Das, head of Antodaya, an NGO working with Adivasis, says it is sheer ‘callousness’ on the part of officials that has denied Adivasis their rightful claim under the FRA.