Banni Maldharis approach NGT with reneged community forest rights claims

Banni Breeder Association, an organisation of pastoralists, want the titles recognising the community's claimed rights

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 06 December 2018
The Banni grasslands in Gujarat's Bhuj district. The Maldhari community wants there collective rights over the forest recognised. Credit: Getty Images

Sixteen gram panchayats on the Banni grasslands in Bhuj district, Gujarat have approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT) over the neglecting of Community Forest Rights (CFR) of the resident Maldhari pastoral community under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

A submission has been made to the NGT as part of an ongoing case over encroachment on Banni. This petition was filed in May by Banni Breeder Association (BBA), an organisation of pastoralists in the area.

The NGT asked the revenue and forest departments about encroachment. The two departments could not agree on its status, says Isha Meran Mutva, a resident of Gorewali village in the Banni grassland, and a member of BBA. “They decided to start the land settlement process, sidelining our CFR claims that were approved in 2015,” he adds.

Following this, the Gujarat revenue department notified on September 27 that the land surveying of the grassland will be undertaken under the Gujarat Land Revenue Code, 1879. This would mean the community, which has been trying to get its rights recognised under FRA, wouold be back to square one.

The government started surveying the land in three of the panchayats early October. Interestingly, the three—Dhordo, Moti Dadhhar and Bhojardo—are the only ones to not have applied for rights under FRA.

The 16 panchayats have individually sent submissions to the NGT, drawing its attention to FRA violation and condemning the survey.

“They are doing it under the Gujarat Land Revenue Code, 1879. This is against the provisions of FRA, according to which, after its coming to power in 2006, the law supersedes all other forest-related laws,” says Mutva.

In 2015, 47 CFR titles, covering the entire area of the grassland (2,500 square kilometres), was granted to 47 villages of the 16 panchayats. While the claims were cleared by the government, the community never got titles that formally recognise their traditional rights over the grassland, Muta alleges.

When the community called on the chief minister last year, they were told that a committee comprising the CM and the forest and revenue departments was formed and would soon clear the titles.

“Traditionally, the Maldharis of Banni had common ownership over this ecologically sensitive area. That was the reason they applied for CFR claims under FRA. However, now with revenue settlement process underfoot, the government is intruding with the element of individual ownership of land. This will negatively impact the Banni ecosystem,” says Tushar Dash of Community Forest Rights – Learning and Advocacy group, which works on FRA issues.

The district authorities could not be contacted.  

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