FSI shall take 16 years to complete encroachment survey in FRA case

Only four states have sent their data to the body so far

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Tuesday 06 August 2019
The Forest Survey of India says it would need 16 years to complete its survey of encroachment in Indian forests such as this Shola forest in Tamil Nadu as ordered by the Supreme Court. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) told the Supreme Court (SC) that it would take 16 years to survey alleged encroachments in the case regarding forest dwellers’ rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, on August 6, 2019, according to a source.

The FSI submitted an affidavit in court, which said it has surveyed around 6,400 geo-referenced polygons of rejected Individual Forest Rights (IFR) claims in four states — Odisha, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The FSI has used satellite imagery of these polygons ranging from 2005, 2009 to 2018-19.

Most of the states are still in the process of sending the organisation their data, the source told Down To Earth (DTE).

The FSI has only got data from four states and the rest of the states are in the process of sending it the data, the source said.

Around 0.68 per cent of the total rejected IFR claims in the country have been surveyed. In Uttarakhand, some 16 polygons have been surveyed. Most of the polygons — over 6,000 — are from Andhra Pradesh, the source added.

The Supreme Court had ordered the FSI to conduct a survey detailing encroachments on forest land in its February 28, 2019, order.

“The FSI has to make a satellite survey and place on record, the encroachment positions as far as possible in this Court before the next date of hearing as directed in the order dated February 13, 2019,” the court had said.

Of the 0.68 per cent of the rejected IFR claims that FSI studied, it had found that around 57 per cent of the polygons show signs of land use change.

“Satellite images are easy to distort, since everything from seasonal changes to lack of ground truthing can lead to misleading conclusions,” Shankar Gopalakrishnan, secretary, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national forum for forest dwellers which was active in getting the FRA implemented in 2006, told DTE.

The images have nothing to do with most of the rights under the Act, such as non-timber forest produce, grazing, etc., which won’t show up on satellite images anyway, and they cannot even be used to verify land rights, since a person may choose to leave land under their occupation fallow for some time, may grow fruit trees or other tree crops, or may have had trees illegally planted on their lands, Gopalakrishnan added.

In the hearing on August 6, the SC asked all the states to send data to FSI for them to complete the survey. The next hearing is on September 12, 2019.

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