As per 2001 Census, Tribal population constitute 8% of the total population of the Country and among them 80% live in the central belt, extending from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the West and across the States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, to West Bengal and Tripura in the East and remaining 20% live in the northeastern states of Meghalaya, Mizoram,  Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and in the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep.

Types of landowning structure of tribal

Forest and land is fundamental livelihood resources of tribes. There are three types of landowning structure in tribal areas; one is community land where land belongs to the village and another kind of structure where land belongs to the clan and another structure where land belongs to the individual member.

Protection under Constitution

Sixth Schedule of The Constitution of India has made special provisions for safeguarding the interest of the tribes and the Government of each taste is to take care of the tribes.

Land Alienation

The excessive dependence of tribal communities on land for their income and employment makes land alienation and landlessness a major livelihood namely agriculture or farming activity concern of the tribe. In order to cultivate in the forest land, tribes had to rely on the local money lenders for seed capital and this in turn led transfer of land to the money lender for non-payment of loans and reduced them to status of tenants of the moneylender-landlord combine.

However, story does not end here, there are other ways where land of tribes had been transferred to non-tribes. There are many cases where the land was transferred to other tribes who worked for the non-tribal owner and this more or less tantamount to benami transfer.

Next phase of land alienation had began with the commencement of development projects after independence and the forest land was then converted into plantations and sites for construction of hydel and other projects.

In order to protect the marginalised socio-economic class of citizens namely forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 had passed in the Parliament.

Despite implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the problems of tribes have not been resolved.

Major flaws in The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

  • In terms of Section 4(d) of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 a resettlement or alternatives package has been prepared and communicated that provides a secure livelihood for the affected individuals and communities and fulfils the requirements of such affected individuals and communities given in the relevant laws and the policy of the Central Government. Practically in order to get such package and compensation, tribes have to produce the documents of ownership of the land. However, many of the tribes doesn’t have the land records owing to the fact that the areas where Tribes had been living since ages, was so backward that the British did not show any interest in including this area in its mainstream revenue, possession of land and payment of its rent to the local ruler or village head was done orally. As a result of that, practically many tribes despite had been living in forest areas since many generations, had failed to produce the documents of ownership of the land and by taking advantage of this loophole, village heads took away compensation in the name of tribes.

By virtue of Section 3(f) of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, rights of the tribes have been protected, where it is stated that “rights in or over disputed lands under any nomenclature in any State where claims are disputed”. However, considering the fact that tribes are not educated as well as somehow managed their livelihood, in the event of disputes over land would arise, they may not have the ways to knock at door of the court and in such scenario local ruler or village head would always edge over vulnerable tribes to take ownership of the land.

Recommendations to incorporate few provisions in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

  • In order to avoid dispute over ownership of land, Government may give responsibility to the local gram penchants to collect land record and identify the tribes and other traditional foreign dwellers who has been living since many generation in the forest and post identification of such tribes, Government would issue a certificate evidencing ownership of land. In order to oversee the work of local penchants impartially, the independent team should be formed, which comprises MLA or MP of both opposition and the Central/State Government, Government officers, Activist, representative from media, eminent right activist, representative of NGO etc.
  • Prior to implementation of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, there are many instances where non-tribal inhabitants had illegally occupied most of the tribal land by way of fraudulent means. To legitimize this act, these non-tribal landowners claimed that the tribal land had been transferred to them long before the legislation and this could therefore, not come under the present law. In order to give the right to all such land losers who had lost their land by way of fraudulent activity of non-tribes inhabitants, a retrospective provision should be incorporated in the Act where non-tribes who purchased tribal land prior to implementation of the Act, shall have to inform the collector of the area in a prescribed proforma and explaining how the land was transferred to him. In the event it is proved that land being acquired by way of fraudulent means, then land would be taken back from non-tribe purchaser and give it back to the tribes who was the original owner of land.

Other possible Land Reform measures

  • In order to make proper land reforms for the tribes, the Government may adopt the principle of the Operation Barga, which is one of biggest land reform ever taken place in India and which was successfully implemented in West Bengal in the mid 1980s.
  • The entire process of the operation would be divided into the following steps –

1. Identification of priority pockets with large concentration of tribes who cultivates the land of non-tribes on condition of delivering a share of produce of such land to that person. The main aim is to record the names of such tribes.

2. Camping by the Government Officials at the priority pockets and educating tribes about their cultivation rights and also educate them about different subsidy given by the Government to farmers and also encourage them to take loan from banks and avoid taking loan from money lenders.

3. Appoint few groups of person who can guide the tribes to take loan from the bank.

4. The tribes who have been cultivating in the land of non-tribes, gives them rights by way of issuing temporary certificates called `parchas’ to enable them to take loan from the bank to cultivate on the land.

5. Identify the non-tribes who is beneficial owners of land directly and indirectly and investigate the matter how they acquired large chunk of lands. In the event, it will be found that large chunk land was acquired by means of fraud then land should be taken from those non-tribes and such land would be distributed among tribes whose names has been registered.

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June 2021