In 41% of the cases, communities allege that authorities or project proponents did not follow proper procedures for the takeover of land
Disputes concerning commons land accounted for 75.94 per cent of all the existing and resolved land-related conflicts, according to a new report.
The report titled Land Locked: Investments and Lives in Land Conflicts, released by Land Conflict Watch (LCW), a Delhi-based research agency, arrived at this conclusion after analysing around 607 land conflicts in the country. These conflicts span over 1,515,295.30 hectares (ha) of land and affect roughly 6,377,080 people.
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Around a fourth of the total land-related conflicts occurred in Fifth Schedule districts, said the report released December 12, 2022. The Fifth Schedule designates Scheduled Areas in which the interests of the scheduled Tribes are to be protected.
Non-implementation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) and lack of tenure in such places led to conflicts.
Commons lands are natural resources used collectively by a community, such as forests, pastures, ponds and ‘wastelands’, wrote environment lawyer Pooja Chandran in an article.
These lands are vital as they allow communities to get access to natural resources like fuel wood, grazing land for cattle, water, local ponds for fishing, medicinal herbs and other kinds of produce.
Three-quarters of these ongoing conflicts involve commons land, the report found. Around 41 per cent of the conflicts occur exclusively over commons lands, while 35 per cent are spread over both commons and private lands and 23 per cent are exclusively over private lands.
“Within conflicts involving commons lands, the highest share — 37.31 per cent — occurs on non-forested commons; 23.42 per cent on forested commons, while 36.66 per cent of conflicts involve both forested and non-forested commons,” the report stated.
The report analysed data from 2016 to find that land conflicts on commons land were related to mining, with 94 per cent of mining happening or proposed on commons.
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Conflicts related to conservation and forestry were also found to be concentrated on these lands. Lack of legal protection for lands and non-implementation of FRA was found as the most common loopholes that gave rise to such conflicts in common lands.
“In conflicts over non-forest commons, the most common issues were forced evictions and dispossession of land,” it said.
Across all conflicts, complaints against procedural violations form the most common demand or contention of communities. In 41 per cent of the cases, communities allege that authorities or project proponents did not follow proper procedures for the takeover of land.
In at least 34 per cent of the cases, communities are fighting to retain or protect their rights over commons lands and resources. In 28 per cent of the cases, they demand legal recognition of their land rights, it added.
“From Gandhiji’s perspective, when laws are made to meet state’s purpose, it cannot be just. When people have demanded laws, they have been much better, closer to being just,” said independent legal expert Usha Ramanathan.
She stressed the importance of the need for people-centric laws.
While Fifth Schedule districts constitute only 15 per cent of the total districts in the country, around 24.55 per cent of all land conflicts occur here, the report added.
These regions are also home to 23.71 per cent of the conflict-affected population, indicating a higher concentration of land conflicts than the rest of the country.
The most preventable conflicts were those related to infrastructure, conservation and forestry, with a large portion — 34 per cent — of mining conflicts occurring on forested lands in these areas.
“Non-implementation or violation of the FRA and violation of free prior informed consent are the most common legal loopholes and issues leading to conflicts in these districts,” it said.
The report analysed that compared to the around 21 per cent of the ended conflicts on private land, only 13 per cent of commons land-related conflicts have ended because of a lack of formal rights acting as a hurdle.
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