Tribal affairs ministry’s report on FRA riddled with discrepancies

Area of forest land recognised reduced, more titles distributed than approved
Tribal affairs ministry’s report on FRA riddled with discrepancies

The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) releases a monthly progress report on the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006, across the country. Looking at the report for January 2019, the area of forest land that was distributed under FRA seems to have decreased between November 2018 and January this year.

While the area over which titles were granted till November 2018 stood at around 13.4 million acres, in the latest data, this figure has come down to around 12.5 million acres — a reduction of around 0.9 million acres or around 3,600 square kilometres — roughly the size of Goa. 

The reduction has happened despite there being an increase in the number of FRA titles distributed during the same period. So, while various states recognised forest dwellers’ rights and distributed FRA titles to more than 10,000 claimants, the area of forest land recognised under the law has somehow decreased.  

An analysis of the data shows that this decrease can be attributed to a reduction in the area over which titles were distributed in Andhra Pradesh (more than 10,00,000 acres reduction) and Odisha (more than 1,00,000 acres reduction).

Moreover, the states have simultaneously managed to distribute more titles than the number of claims approved by the District Level Committees (DLC), according to the January data. DLC is the final authority to approve an FRA claim.

Total number of approvals made by DLCs across the country till January were 17.69 lakh; however, the number of titles distributed till January are 19.05 lakh.

While Shyla Titus, director, MoTA, responsible for putting out the report, refused to talk to Down to Earth; experts say that the inconsistencies have arisen because of poor data collection.

“Many times, the states send the data to MoTA in hectares and then they convert it in acres and mistakes are made there. The problem is with the tabulation of the data,” says Giri Rao from Vasundhara, a Bhubaneswar-based non-profit working on the implementation of FRA.   

There is precedence to this. For Maharashtra, while the October 2018 report put the area of land on which titles under FRA were given at 73,36,192 acres, the same figures for November registered a steep decline and remained only 29,68,856 acres, or just around 40 per cent.

The reason for this was that the state government was sending land data in acres, while officials at MoTA, thinking that it was in hectares, multiplied and increased it accordingly.

“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,” said Geetanjoy Sahu, assistant professor at 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.

This same data is being used in the Supreme Court in the case challenging the constitutional validity of FRA. In the backdrop of the ongoing case, on which the future of FRA and the millions of forest dwellers is dependent, the ministry cannot afford to make such mistakes, mathematical or otherwise.

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