How a conversion ‘mistake’ made Maharashtra top forest rights performer for a decade

State’s ‘stellar achievement’ turns out to be a simple mathematical mistake raises doubt over government data

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Saturday 02 February 2019

The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ (MoTA) Monthly Progress Report-November 2018, on the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, (FRA) 2006, has something amiss about it, particularly when it comes to Maharashtra.

While in the previous report of October 2018, the figure for the area of land on which titles under FRA were given was 73,36,192 aces, the same figures for November registered a steep decline and remained only 29,68,856 acres, or just around 40 per cent.

Turns out, the reason behind the stellar achievement — highest among all states — of Maharashtra when it comes to FRA implementation, was nothing but a simple mathematical mistake.

As it happens, in Maharashtra, every month the FRA related data is collected at the taluka level and then sent to the respective district. From the district, the data is then sent to the state’s FRA cell. The FRA cell then compiles the data from all the districts and sends it to the FRA cell of the MoTA. 

Now, while the land data from the state sent to the ministry is in acres, someone in the FRA cell of MoTA had been under the impression that the land data from Maharashtra was being sent in hectares, substantially increasing the actual area of land given under FRA.

“For over a decade, the MoTA officer in-charge of consolidating the state-wise report was of the view that state-level recognised area was in hectares and used to convert the given database into acres, which in fact was always given by Maharashtra FRA cell in acres,” says Geetanjoy Sahu, assistant professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a member of the Community Forest Rights - Learning and Advocacy group, a national level forum of experts and activists working on issues related to FRA.

Sahu and his team started tracking the land disbursed by the Maharashtra government under FRA after the farmers’ protest last year and realised that there was a big discrepancy in data available at the district level and the one brought out by MoTA.

“We had meetings with the state officials and brought this to their notice. Then they talked to people in MoTA and the mistake in conversion of unit finally emerged,” he said.

While this might seem like a harmless mathematical mistake, it raises serious questions about the authenticity of data made available by the ministry of FRA implementations, especially since this isn’t the first time this has happened. 

The land distribution data for Goa suddenly jumped to 886 acres in the October report before coming back to the original 87 acres in the November report. 

“This has happened in the case of Jharkhand earlier too and it creates suspicion about the data that the government is putting out,” Sahu said. 

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