The Tribal Affairs Minister, Mr Kishore Chandra Deo, has urged all Chief Ministers to implement the Forest Dwellers Act in a proper manner.
In a letter to the Chief Ministers, Mr Deo said his ministry has identified certain “procedural lacunae” in the implementation of the five-year-old Act.
The Minister said in the letter that there continues to be a lack of public awareness about the Act. He said many traditional forest dwellers are being prevented from filing claims for rights. The Minister also said though the Act stresses on democratic process, the gram sabhas are not called at the level of actual settlement but at the larger level of the panchayat. He said all the gram sabha meetings should be videotaped to ensure transparency.
Mr Deo said the State Governments have rejected the claims by tribals for incorrect reasons. “No claim accompanied by admissible evidence should be rejected on the basis of official records alone,” the Minister suggested.
He said the tribals and forest dwellers, in violation of the Act, still face harassment, threats of eviction and forced displacement. The Minister said the conversion of forest villages to revenue villages is hardly being carried out.
“Other community rights, such as access to grazing areas by settled and nomadic communities, access to water bodies, habitats of primitive tribal groups, etc have also not been widely recognised,” Mr Deo said in the letter.
He urged the Chief Ministers to take into account such issues while implementing the legislation. He asked the State Governments to direct the implementing authorities that all rights of the forest dwellers should be adhered to while implementing the law.
Tribal right activists and certain political parties have been complaining that the Forest Dwellers Act is being implemented in a “shoddy” manner. The Act was passed during the UPA-I.