These tribals were displaced from C'garh. Can they get land rights in AP?

Representative Image

“I will never go back,” said Madakam Adama, referring to his home in Chhattisgarh’s Gedampal village, which he last saw 13 years ago, in 2006. Adama, who looks about 60 but says he is 45, now lives in Kota Namilipeta, a settlement of 27 mud-walled houses in the middle of a forest in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district.

Adama is among the thousands of Adivasis (tribal, indigeneous people) displaced from their homes and villages in southern Chhattisgarh. The Adivasis were fleeing violence allegedly inflicted by a state-sponsored militia, the Salwa Judum, soon after it was formed in mid-2005. The Supreme Court banned the Salwa Judum in 2011, calling it unconstitutional and the state support to it “a matter of gravest constitutional concerns and deserving of the severest constitutional opprobrium”.

The displaced Adivasis, who had found refuge in the forests of Andhra Pradesh, feared retribution if they returned home. They eventually settled on land that they had cleared in Andhra forests. At least 500 of these families have now applied for land titles for their new houses and small farms under the Forest Rights Act (FRA). They are relying on a special provision meant to rehabilitate displaced Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers, which has never been used before.

Adivasis have never before sought relief under Section 3(1)(m) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, or FRA. There is a hurdle that the families will have to overcome, though. According to FRA, claims for forest rights can only be made on land that the claimants occupied before December 13, 2005, the day on which the Forest Rights Act was placed before the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament. The majority of the Adivasis fled Chhattisgarh in 2006.

Some experts say the Act may need to be amended to accommodate the demand for land rights, but the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, unsure if a legislative amendment would work out, is framing guidelines on how to use Section 3(1)(m) to process the Adivasis’ applications for land rights. Other experts believe the state governments may have to come up with an entirely new solution.

How the applications get decided would be relevant to the rehabilitation of millions of Adivasis, displaced before or after 2005.

At least 190,000 Adivasis have been forcefully evicted or displaced since 2005 without compensation or rehabilitation, according to six cases documented so far in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana by Land Conflict Watch, a network of researchers who collect data about ongoing land conflicts in India. Half of them are in Assam, and were displaced because of an ethnic conflict over the demand for a separate state of Bodoland.

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