Forest Act Does Little For Tribals

Forest tribes of Chhattisgarh wait endlessly for the government to return their land that was once forcibly taken away.

Bhan Sahu, our correspondent in Chhattisgarh has a family of four.To support her family, she heavily depends on the 5 acres of farmland that she owns. The land produces only one crop which is not enough to feed five people and therefore Bhan Sahu has to buy foodgrains for about 4-5 months. She says that she is still better off. Becasuse, ‘there are thousands of people in my district who do not even have a single acre. They have been robbed of the land that they owned as the government declared them illegal occupants of the forest land a decade ago. Since then they have been living in misery, waiting the government to return their land.’

The people featured in this video belong to different agrarian tribes Tribes and traditional forest dweller communities who have been living in the forest areas of Chhattisgarh state for centuries. After a decade of rift between them and the forest department, in 2005 the government of India introduced a law called the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. Under this act, the tribal people have now been allowed to have land ownership again.

But Bhan Sahu says that even after 5 years, the majority of her community members are still landless. “Everyone applied for the land ownership, but only a handful of them got it. The implementation is extremely slow and poor. It is also not clear who is the real authority. So, sometimes our people go to the Gram Sabha/Village Council who sends them to the district administrative office or to the forest officials. The lack of clarity and the delay has only added to our difficulties”, she says.

Many of the community members have been also arbitrararilly left out bcause the officials changed their social category from ‘forest dwellers’ to ‘non forest dwellers’, thus disqualifying them for the land. Bhan Sahu says that these tribal people are so poor that every day is a struggle for them and therefore the government must act quickly to return them the land which is their legal right.

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