200 people from a tribal community secure land tenure under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
July 2017 was a month of celebration for over 200 people of 11 villages in Sundarpahari Block. Two years of community mobilisation had finally gotten them land tenure. In Jharkhand, where the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 has been lackadaisical, this has been a major achievement for the tribal community.
The Forest Rights Act, 2006 ensures that indigenous communities who have traditionally lived in and depended on forest land, get access to individual rights and community rights to the land and rights to the forest resources. It gives them the right to continue collecting minor forest produce such as leaves and fruits. Such ownership of the land grants them the right to protect and preserve these forests.
Mary Nisha Hansda, VV’s Community Correspondent from Godda District, filmed the grievances of the community in May 2017. She found that in 2015, people had claimed rights over the land they had lived on for three generations. The land was measured in 2015 itself to start the allocation process. Two years later, 82 people had been given land titles or “pattas” but no one had received any legal paperwork.
Records from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs show that as of October 2017, only 18,24,271 titles were distributed for the 41,89,827 claims filed under the Act. 18,27,143 claims were rejected. Up till 2015, Jharkhand had given out only 22,400 individual titles; the number has jumped significantly in the 2017 report, which shows that 54,458 individual titles have been granted. The slow pace of the process of allocation in Jharkhand is alarming because Scheduled Tribes make up 26% of the state’s population; communities whose livelihoods and cultures are historically tied to forests.
Communities like those in Sundarpahari face several challenges in accessing these rights. There is often conflicting information on procedures and a lack of transparency. In this scenario NGOs and civil society organisations have stepped in to create awareness on how the Act works. Salomi Hansda from Badlao Foundation, was central in initially mobilising residents of 11 villages in Sundarpahari to file claims in 2015. Sensing a lack of response from the government machinery she called on Mary Nisha to document the matter. Mary herself is a veteran leader of the local Hasa Bhasa Movement, one that has been working hard to conserve the forests of the area from destruction by the hands mining projects.
Mary, along with Salomi, and individuals from the Right to Food Campaign took the grievances of 200 people to the District office in Godda. A sea of women and men dressed in their native colours of teal and red sat at the offices and waited patiently to be heard. It was this that finally got the attention of the Circle Officer and titles for over 200 people in the block were distributed in July 2017.
“We feel extremely relieved, we can rightfully live and work on the land now. We were afraid that the government would take away our land. That hasn’t happened and we’ve been given our rights. We’re very grateful,” said Pyari Hembrom holding her land certificate.
Video by Community Correspondent Mary Nisha Hansda
Article by Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, a member of the VV editorial team