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Issues of tribal land alienation in Odisha
A group of social activists recently submitted their reports to the government that highlighted the drawbacks of the proposed land restoration among the tribals and non-tribals. All the aspects need to be taken care of before moving ahead with the restoration.

THE LAND restoration has become a major concern in Odisha and vital aspect for the legislature, executive, judiciary, media and for public. Last month, the government of Odisha urged public opinion on land restoration in 5th Schedule areas of Odisha.

Recently a group of social activists submitted the drawbacks of land alienation and recommendations on land restoration aspect. The government of India has come up with two important acts with well intended provisions for addressing the core issues of the tribal land alienation. The spirit of Panchayat Extension to Schedule Areas Act 1996 (PESA) and the Schedule Tribes and other Traditions Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2007 needs to be strengthened at all levels from legislative to executive to protect the interests of tribal communities and requests a massive awareness campaign involving all concerned citizens in rural as well as in urban areas.

The activists demanded to hold Gram Panchayats and district level consultations among the tribals at Scheduled areas, researchers, academicians, practitioners and policy makers to have a widespread suggestion and to extend the time duration further at least two months for hearing the public view through consultations, workshops and seminars especially from tribals of schedule areas. The land rights of the tribals in the scheduled areas have been insecure and prone, despite several special legislations enacted to provide special protection and security not only over their land but also their common property resources and culture. The tribal customary rights over land and commons have been seriously affected with the process of codification rights. The community ownership, customary rights and governance on land, common resources and on other resources became susceptible.

History has witnessed the continued deprivation and alienation of land rights of the tribals through enactment of legislations, which does not fit into their traditional and customary system of land ownership and governance. With regards to the tribal rights in scheduled areas and the legislations enacted for protection and governance from time to time, there have been insufficient provisions in conformity with the main objectives and intentions of the laws and regulations. Particularly, if we see the role of tribals (Gram Sabha/ Palli Sabha) in the governance of scheduled areas and the provisions made under PESA, besides other laws they are full with paradoxes and contradictions.

There has been practically no effective role of the Gram Sabha nor having any effective stake in decision taking. The vast number of revenue laws and policies formulated and enacted at different periods have made the system more complex and unfriendly with the common people and very tough for the tribals. They didn’t prepare in conformity with the customary and traditional system and rights of the tribals in scheduled areas. For example, the cultivation of upland by the tribals has been delegitimized and considered as illegal under the laws. The State revenue laws don’t mandate and implement the settlement of land above 10 degree slopes for the permanent tribal cultivators.

There is no role of Gram Sabha in the settlement of land in the name of landless and regulating the cases of illegal land transfer and money lending like cases due to which massive land transfer takes place illegally despite protective legislations. The existing government machineries are non-responsive to the spirit of special attention and protection to the scheduled tribes land, livelihood and resources. The administrative action has always gone counterproductive to address the land rights problems of the tribals in Scheduled areas. The major issues are: concerning tribal land the tribals were not legally recognized as owners of the lands which they cultivated; unsatisfactory state of land record contributed a lot to the problem of land alienation; mortgage of land and standing crops to money-lenders and traders; the tribal land owner is becoming sharecropper in their own land giving mortgage to local sahukars. As a result, more than 50 % of the share produced by the tribals handed over to the sahukar; alienation of land to non-tribal through fraudulent means by non-tribals, corporate and other revenue officials, Benami land holdings, lack of title deeds over lands enjoyed by tribal; the tribal land (homestead & agri) which is provided by the government schemes like Vasundhara Yoyana, Mo Jami Mo Diha Campign has not been identified and demarcated. In most of the cases, the land provided through different acts and provisions to the tribals are not yet in their possession; suo-motto restoration of the tribal land in Schedule area has not been adequately taken care of; large quantity of land is handed over to the corporate, plantation companies, etc. which could have been used for the landless tribals.

The activists Ms Vidya Das of Aggragamme, Mr Dhirendra Panda of CSNR, Mr Gadadhar Pradhan of ODAF, Mr Sricharan Behera of Vasundhara, Mr Sandip Pattanaik, of NCAS, Mr Pravat Mishra of RCDC and Mr Saroj Jena, CWS have submitted the recommendations to the Board of Revenue, Government of Odisha.

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