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How Jharkhand Can Take Lessons From Neighbouring Odisha’s Land Rights Distribution To Tribals

In the list of states where the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act has been enforced, Jharkhand stands last both in terms of receiving Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims and granting titles.

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Proper implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) has been an issue in multiple mass movements in recent years (Representative Photo)
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The three Adivasi-dominated states have more or less similar proportions of tribal population. As per the 2011 census, Odisha had about 96 lakh Adivasis out of a total population of 4.197 crore, Chhattisgarh was home to 78 lakh Adivasis in a population of 2.55 crore, and the community numbered 87 lakh among Jharkhand’s 3.298 crore people. 

All the three states border each other. Odisha has turned into a role model of distributing forest land titles for states that have significant Adivasi population and which come under the ambit of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act.

Tushar Das, an independent researcher working on the Forest Rights Act, told Outlook, “Odisha has set an example for other states in terms of granting forest rights to Adivasis. It was the first region of the country to allocate Rs 25 crore in its budget separately for FRA. Organisations working on the FRA are also very active here. State governments play an important role in the implementation of this law. I believe in Jharkhand the state government needs to take stronger measures to implement the FRA.”

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The point that Das is highlighting for Jharkhand is significant. In the list of states where the PESA Act has been enforced, Jharkhand stands last both in terms of receiving FRA claims and granting titles. 

As per the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, only around 50 per cent forest land titles have been granted across states compared to the claims received. As per the last report released in November 2022, a total of 44,66,617 claims have been received from 22 states, out of which 22,49,671 land titles have been distributed. Chhattisgarh and Odisha stand first and second in terms of distributing the highest number of titles. 

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This is how different states rank:

  • Chhattisgarh: claims received 9,22,346, titles distributed 4,91,805. 
  • Odisha: claims 6,45,343, distributed 4,62,160. 
  • Madhya Pradesh: claims 6,27,613, distributed 6,27,613. 
  • Andhra Pradesh: claims 2,84,725, distributed 2,19,803. 
  • Maharashtra: claims 3,74,416, distributed 1,72,116. 
  • Tripura: claims 2,00,721, distributed 1,28,932. 
  • Gujarat: claims 1,90,056, distributed 96,283. 
  • Telangana: claims 2,06,984, distributed 97,536. 
  • Jharkhand: claims 1,10,756, distributed 61,970. 

These are the states covered by the PESA Act as they have significant tribal populations. However, the figures show that Andhra and Odisha have performed the best among them in terms of registering claims. 

According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Jharkhand government has not officially registered even a single claim, nor distributed a title since March 2019. While in the same period, its neighbouring Adivasi-dominated state of Chhattisgarh registered 32,106 new claims and distributed 68,587 new titles. Odisha, on its part, received 13,582 new claims and distributed 25,384 new titles. 

Why does Odisha fare so much better in processing claims? FRA activist and expert Mithilesh Kumar explains, “Odisha and Chhattisgarh are better than us (Jharkhand) because they have developed a separate system for implementing the FRA, called the tracking system or the machine information system (MIS). This helps in tracking how many claims were filed where, and the processing is at what stage at any given time. This information is available at all levels from sub-divisional officers to the state-level officials. However, there is no coordination in Jharkhand. The state has not even constituted the state-level monitoring committee –which has to be chaired by the chief secretary– even though it is mandatory under the rules of the FRA.”

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Although Chhattisgarh had registered the highest number of claims, it has not distributed titles in the same proportion. Vijendra Ajnabi, the convenor of Chhattisgarh Van Adhikar Manch, thinks that the Congress has not done much to fulfil its promises over the FRA.  

He told Outlook, “They have not distributed too many forest land titles in these four years. Most of the titles were granted under the previous government. Although it is true that the current government has strengthened gram-sabhas, while the previous regime did not listen to these bodies. If gram-sabhas are strengthened, this will boost the community rights of Adivasis. Adivasis form a sizable chunk of Chhattisgarh’s population, but they have not been granted forest titles as per their needs. The state has around 12,000 villages where the residents depend on the forest for their survival. Therefore, the issues of (rights over) land, water, forest are major questions here, same as Jharkhand.” 

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