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Triple power ink for forest rights
- State part of tripartite agreement to align Act with (land) deed

Ranchi, May 29: The state today inked an MoU with two organisations that work for forest dweller rights at a low-key event at Project Building, but its implications can prove historic in the long term.

Aimed at better implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the tripartite MoU was signed between Jharkhand Van Adhikar Manch, Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme and Jharkhand State Tribal Cooperative Development Corporation, the third an independent body under state welfare department.

The main takeaway of this MoU will be better awareness among forest dwellers of the fact that something like the forest rights Act exists.

So far, the implementation of the Act — under which pattas or deeds ensure the right to land and minor forest produce to dwellers — has been shoddy in the state.

Only 18,000 pattas (both individual and communities) have been distributed against claims that touch 50,000. State data compiled till this January suggests 17,616 individuals and 587 communities got pattas.

If full-scale ignorance and half-baked applications of forest dwellers have played spoilsport, so have bureaucratic lethargy and chaos.

For starters, the Jharkhand Van Adhikar Manch, a group of like-minded outfits, will pilot the Act awareness campaign across 121 blocks in 24 districts of the state.

According to the Act, all claims have to be ratified by the gram sabha and scrutinised by a sub-division-level committee. This committee has to forward its recommendations to a district-level committee, which takes the final decision.

The guidelines also deal with ownership rights over land. The Act recognises the rights of individuals and communities living in forest areas over grazing, agricultural and residential lands, and water bodies.

On paper, the Act seems simple. On the ground, it becomes a maze of complications. For example, many places inside Saranda in West Singhbhum, considered Asia’s largest sal tree reserve, do not get benefits of the Act as they are neither revenue nor forest villages.

In cases like these, the forest-dweller’s rights over minor produce, say sal leaves, rivers and ponds, as well as over land enters a grey zone.

The MoU will ease the process of disposal of pending land claims and settlement rights for forest-dwelling groups, including particularly vulnerable primitive tribals and women. It will also increase participation of women in forest committees and other grassroots-level decision-making outfits.

State tribal welfare commissioner J.P. Lakra, also the managing director of the tribal cooperative development corporation, said the MoU was groundbreaking. “This MoU will pave the way for training at every level for stakeholders, including forest dwellers, gram sabha members, NGO partners and others involved in the distribution of land pattas,” Lakra said.