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Millennium Post

Tribals play hard on land rights

THE revenue office of Jawhar in Maharashtra’s Thane district witnessed an unusual sight on 18 June. About 30 tribals from Anantpur village of Jawhar had congregated at the office for the hearing of their first RTI appeals. They are part of a group of 456 tribals who have filed first RTI appeals following unsatisfactory answers to their queries. Under the RTI Act, applicants can file the first appeal if the authorities fail to provide them the required information within 30 days or if they are not satisfied with the information. The hearing, which is being held in batches, is likely to continue for a month.

The tribals from 14 villages in Jawhar and Vikramgad talukas had filed RTI queries related to claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) on 9 April. FRA recognises traditional rights of the scheduled tribes and forest dwellers on forest land and resources. Some had resorted to RTI to find out the status of approval of their FRA claims. Several tribals had filed RTI queries despite receiving land titles. Their main allegation is that the authorities allotted them lesser land than what they had claimed without taking into account the evidence presented by the forest rights committee (FRC) of the gram sabha. Consider the case of Jana Hadkya Kutade from Hateri village. He has received land titles for 1.5 hectares (ha) while the Hateri FRC had cleared his claim over 9 ha. Ganpat Janu Pawar, chief of Hateri FRC, says, ‘The authorities should have approved the claim because our recommendation was based on the survey conducted by the revenue department itself.’ Kutade had filed RTI queries to know why he was allotted such a small parcel of land. Under the FRA amendment rules of 2012, the authority must disclose why it has partially or entirely rejected the claim of an applicant. While people had specific queries about their claims, the authority’s response was same for all Kutade and other applicants started receiving answers to their RTI queries in the last week of April. But the answer was the same for all: ‘Sub-divisional and district-level committees have cleared all land claims made. Appeals against the decision are filed with the district-level committee. However, your application for an (FRA) appeal was not found in our records.’

While people had specific queries about their claims, the authority’s response was same for all Milind Thatte, founder of Vayam, a non-profit working with the tribals, says the authority’s response is ambiguous.

On arrangement with Down to Earth magazine
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