RTI shows violation of Forest Rights Act in granting tribal land pattas
Village Forest Rights Committees were formed at different levels across Maharashtra under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 with which the tribals filed their claims. The committees were expected to verify the claims by spot visits and measurements and refer them to the respective Gram Sabhas.
The Forest Rights Act vests the final decision to accept or reject the claims in Gram Sabhas. They forward the accepted claims to the subdivision level committee (SDLC), which in turn forwards the claims to the district level committee (DLC). The reply to the RTI applications shows that the subdivisional level committee (SDLC) had not sought the gram sabha's opinion and had taken a suo-motu decision. Though the SDLC and DLC were mandated to clear the claims within 60 days each, the tribals got their land pattas after five years and more so they were given only a part of their claims without assigning any reason. This led to 1,272 tribals filing applications with the District Collector of Jawhar under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking to get the copies of the letters sent to the Gram Sabhas for verification of their claims.
The replies to the applications could be provided by the forest and revenue department only after the intervention of the State Information Commission. Milind Thatte from Vayam who helped the tribals in filing the RTI applications has claimed that the government didn’t follow the procedures laid down in the forest rights act. The replies reveal that the claims were directly forwarded to the SLDC and the Gram Sabhas were ignored in deciding the claims though otherwise mandated under Section 12 of the forest rights act. On the basis of the RTI replies, a demand has been made to the state government to rectify the land records as originally approved by the Gram Sabhas.