IFR review: Lapse in procedure behind rejection of claims in Burhanpur

Claims filed in 2020 through the Van Mitra Portal were rejected without sharing the reason for the same with the claimants

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Friday 24 February 2023
With the atrocities of the forest officials, Dholi Bai’s and her family’s fate hangs in the balance. Photo: Shuchita Jha/CSE
With the atrocities of the forest officials, Dholi Bai’s and her family’s fate hangs in the balance. Photo: Shuchita Jha/CSE With the atrocities of the forest officials, Dholi Bai’s and her family’s fate hangs in the balance. Photo: Shuchita Jha/CSE

This is the second instalment of a series. Read the first part here

It has been 10 years since ninety-year-old Dholi Bai of Sunod village, Nepanagar tehsil of Burhanpur, first applied for Individual Forest Right (IFR) claim on a small piece of land of eight acres. Her claim was rejected by the Sub-divisional Level Committee (SDLC) back in 2013, but it was years later she got the information about the rejection.

 Also read: ‘Review 150,000 forest rights claims rejected without reason’ 

Van Mitra portal, launched by the Madhya Pradesh government in 2019 to review all the rejected claims after the states took to suo motu review of such cases post a 2019 Supreme Court order, was her last hope. But even that has been dashed to pieces.

“In 2020, I applied for the claim again through the Van Mitra portal but have received no news till date. It is pending again at the SDLC,” Dholi told Down To Earth.

All 20 members of her family depend on the same eight-acre area of land for survival. With the atrocities of the forest officials, Dholi’s and her family’s fate hangs in the balance. 

What if the claim is rejected again? Will they be allowed to live in the forest they have been relying on for decades? Will they be forced to leave the area and be ‘rehabilitated’ in a city slum that lacks the resources that they depend upon for their bare survival? These questions keep her awake as she tries her best to find a way to just get the right to her land. 

Without having the title deed, even other day-to-day activities like getting fertilisers for her field also becomes a hassle. 

Dholi told DTE:

We had to grease several palms to just apply for the claim two times but no one is bothered about it now. When we go to buy fertilisers, the sellers ask to see the land title and when we go to apply for an electricity connection, the officials there ask for a copy of the title.

“We cannot dig wells or even apply for a home under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna unless we have the title. Everything is stuck because we are being denied the right to our own land,” she lamented.

Several people from the Bhil, Bhilala, Barela, Korku and Gond communities of the Burhanpur district have similar stories.

Raiku Bai of the Sutkodi village, Nepanagar, said her 75-year-old father-in-law Anarsingh Tulsiya had applied for the claim in 2010 and then again in 2013-14. But it had been rejected both times. He then applied for IFR on the same seven-acre piece of land through the Van Mitra Portal in 2020. But until June 2022, they had no clue that their claim had been rejected again, for the third time. 

Also read: Has forest rights Act enhanced the lives of Adivasis?

The Forest Rights Committee (FRC) came to verify the claim, but the panchayat secretary of the Sunoth panchayat rejected the claim without holding a Gram Sabha meeting, she said.

“We did not even know that the claim had been rejected, as we haven’t yet received any notice from them. It has been 13 years since we have been trying to get the right, but because of the forest officials and panchayat secretaries we are unable to get the title,” she added.

Antaram Awase, secretary of the FRC, Sivle village of the Nepanagar tehsil of Burhanpur, told DTE:

Instances of violence and framing individuals under false cases still continue. Forest officials burnt our houses down and beat up the men, women and children alike in order to force us out of the forest. This has happened several times, even before the SC order. But after 2019, the brutalities increased in frequency and intensity.

Diving into the history of the tehsil, he recalled that it was because of the setting up of the paper mill that people from different tribal communities had been brought to Chhainpura and neighbouring villages as labourers. And being tribals, they settled down in the jungles, using the forest produce and dried twigs for cooking and clearing small patches of land to grow crops.

Also read: Fight for forest rights: Why these Dhamtari Adivasis gave up over 100 acres of cropland to plant trees

Forty-year-old Asha Bai also recalled a similar story. She told DTE during a ground visit that her father-in-law had applied for the claim in 2014, but they were not aware of the date, month or year when it was rejected and at which level. 

“We did not get any notice regarding the rejection or the reason for it. Fourteen of the 17 claims filed through the Van Mitra app before the lockdown in 2020 are pending, while three were rejected,” she said.

Asha’s claim was also rejected at the FRC level in 2021 and was sent to the SDLC. Then she, along with other members of the village, went and pressurised the SDLC to send the claim back to the FRC for verification.

“Now the process is pending at the FRC again,” she added.

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