Confused over granting habitat rights to particularly vulnerable tribal groups under Forest Rights Act, the State Government has requested the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to clarify the parameters for deciding claims to such rights.
A new provision inserted in the amended rules of 2012 has created confusion about settlement of rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA).
“...ensure that all PVTGs (particularly vulnerable tribal groups) receive habitat rights, in consultation with the traditional institutions of PVTGs and their claims for habitat rights are filed before the Gram Sabha, wherever necessary by recognising floating nature of their Gram Sabhas,” the FRA amended rules said.
It is becoming difficult to ascertain the scope and extent of habitat rights where such rights are being claimed beyond the geographical area of a particular tribe, Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes Development Secretary Santosh Sarangi said.
For example, Sarangi said, Juang PVTG is confined to the geographical area of Gonasika in Keonjhar district. However, the habitat rights claimed by the Juang tribes extend much beyond the Gonasika area, he said.
There are instances of claims of habitat rights on areas which are neither frequented by the PVTGs nor used for accessing minor forest produces or grazing animals, he said.
“By definition, any forest area can become a habitat for Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers irrespective of where they stay.
It can also encompass revenue land depending on the interpretation of traditional institutions of primitive tribal groups pertaining to their habitat,” Sarangi wrote to Union Secretary in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
In most cases, revenue land also form part of the habitat right claim which does not come under the purview of Forest Rights Act, (FRA)Sarangi said and sought a clarification from the Ministry to avoid ambiguity.
Odisha has emerged as the leading State in the country in settlement of rights over forest land.
The Government recognised the community rights, but the habitat right will lead to unnecessary claims over forest and non-forest land, he said.
Some of the tribes like Mankadia are nomadic in nature. The new rules will make more difficult in settling claims of habitat rights unless some parameters are fixed.
FRA recognises the rights of forest dwellers over forest land and forest resources such as minor forest produce they have traditionally been extracting and using.