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.