By Ghasiram Panda; The Forest Rights Act has provided the scope to convert the forest and un-surveyed villages to revenue villages. The section 3 - 1 (h) of the Act clearly states, “Rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, un-surveyed villages and other villages in forest, whether recorded, notified or not into revenue village.” The occupiers of these villages are the worst affected because of the injustice caused to them by the nation. With an intention to undo the historical injustice, the Forest Rights Act came into force and generated a hope among these forest dwellers. They hoped that with this Act their rights will be legally recognized and it will craft an opportunity to be truly mainstreamed.
Three different letters have been issued since 2008 to carry forward the conversion process. Sri Pradipta Kumar Das, Under Secretary to Government, ST & SC Development Department vide his letter No 40373/ SSD/TD – II – 51/08 dated, Bhubaneswar the 21.11.08, instructed that “Revenue Department has made available to each of the Collectors the data of forest villages as per 2001 Census. Each of these habitations, even without enabling notification by Panchayati Raj Department, can serve the purpose of the Act, as per Section 2 (g) read with 2 (p) (iii) of the Act. Therefore, village assembly meetings of such habitations will also have the same legal validity as Palli Sabha for all practical purposes. However, Panchyati Raj Department is going to issue a detailed notification in this regard very soon.”
Again on 4th February, 2009 Sri Ajit Kumar Tripathy, IAS, Chief Secretary & Chief Development Commissioner, Government of Orissa, Bhubaneswar in his Top Priority letter no. 6061/ SSD / TD – 11 – 51/08 directed to constitute Forest Rights Committees (FRCs) and take up steps under the Act in the forest habitations. Thereafter, Sri B.K. Nayak, Special Secretary to Govt, ST & SC Development Department in his letter No. 45659 / SSD / TD – II – 32/08 Dated, Bhubaneswar the 26.12.09, again reminded to constitute the FRCs and collect the claim forms. Despite all these circulars the irony is after four and half years of implementation of this Act not a single village has been converted to revenue village in the state.
Forest and un-surveyed village residents are currently almost like ‘Non Citizen’ according to Mr. Sankarsan Pradhan, a 72 years old man of an un-surveyed village Banakhal of Reamal Block in Deogarh District. Forest Villages were basically the labour settlements established by forest departments mainly of tribal peoples in forest areas to provide labour for forestry operation but lacking secure legal rights or social provision. Most of the forest villages are now under some other revenue villages. They have no legal homestead or agricultural land in their name. Though they are occupying their own land, no recognition has been given to them. From the administrative point, they are included as hamlet of other revenue villages. The revenue villages are playing the big brother role with these people and less importance has been given to the decisions of the forest habitants. Most of the developmental activities have been implemented in the revenue villages for which the people in the forest habitations have been deprived from the developmental schemes.
The state seems to be happy just by distributing titles for the individual rights and is in no way concerned about the recognition of community rights including conversion of forest habitation. No list of forest village has been shared with the officials as mentioned in the official letters; it is only the list of un-surveyed villages generated from the census 2001 which was circulated. The Department of Forest does not bother to have a compiled list of forest villages of the state. Individuals who have tried to get it through RTI were not successful. However in the process of obtaining information through RTI, it has come to the notice that there are 27 forest villages only in Papahandi block of Nabarangpur district where as the record of the state government reflects only 22 numbers of forest villages. There is thus a mismatch in the fact and figure related to forest villages. Officials implementing Forest Rights Act are not aware of the procedure of conversion and are showing an apathetic attitude to the issues of these villages. It is now time to resolve such issues by giving proper attention otherwise undoing historical injustice will not be possible.
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