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State lags in forest rights dues

Ranchi, Dec. 18: The long-awaited panchayati raj institutions are in place for nearly two years in Jharkhand, but the prerequisite for extending forest rights titles has made little difference in the tribal state.

Sample this: out of 42,000 claims, only 15,296 titles have been distributed until October to forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The sorry state of implementation of the sunshine law for STs and traditional forest dwellers in Jharkhand came to the fore yesterday when Union minister of state for tribal affairs Ranee Narah’s cited the figures in reply to Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani in the Upper House.

According to official records, titles for 37,698-acre forestland have so far been distributed in Jharkhand, while the state is yet to form forest right committees in all the districts, sub-divisions and villages.

Jharkhand does boast a functional 10-member committee, headed by the chief secretary, at the state level.

Jharkhand Jungle Bachao convener Andolan Sanjay Bosu Mullick rued that government officials showed scant interest in executing the law.

“They keep trying different means to delay work. We have repeatedly brought the matter to the notice of the chief minister, but to no avail. Nothing is taking place at the ground level,” he added.

A senior official in the state tribal welfare department admitted that though the law was enacted in 2006, it was virtually non-existent in Jharkhand for more than two years due to the absence of elected panchayati raj institutions.

The act asks for elected members in district and sub-divisional committees, empowering only elected panchayati raj bodies to call gram sabha meetings.

“Finally in July 2008, the government clarified that since it was not possible to hold panchayat elections immediately, as the matter was pending before the apex court, vacancies in the forest rights committees in scheduled areas could be filled up in consultation with traditional gram sabhas,” the official added.

In November 2008, the committees were formed in East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Latehar districts.

“The state decided that joint forest management committee members would also represent forest rights panels. Then began printing of claims forms in the districts, but the block development officers did not bother to distribute them properly. The forest department, too, tried to restrain pre-1980s claimants in certain areas,” he added.

State tribal welfare commissioner A.K. Mishra refused comment, adding he was touring Gujarat. Tribal welfare minister Champai Soren, however, claimed that disposal of several cases was in the final stages and the titles would be soon distributed.

However, Nathwani said the government was responsible for settling all cases early. If need be, the government should opt for arbitration.

“I will soon write letters to both the Jharkhand government and the Centre.”