As two central states, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, go to polls tomorrow, we have gathered our forces to go beyond run-of-the-mill election stories. This time we have four stories that look at issues, often overlooked by the mainstream media, that cover individual forest rights, pending land title claims, land acquisition for a river linking project and rising criminalisation of tribal communities.
In Chhattisgarh, the incumbent government boasts of granting Individual Forest Rights (IFRs) to over 500,000 families. Our contributing researcher Natasha Trivedi, however, found that many families have received pattas (land title deeds) for only a fraction of the land they claimed.
The report from Surguja district revealed that several forest-dependent families were granted pattas for as little as 14 dismil, which is roughly the size of a tennis court. This, despite the fact that many families have been living on and cultivating the same land for generations. In her travels, Natasha also found that the IFR process in the state is opaque and unaccountable with families often unaware of the status of their claims.
In Madhya Pradesh, our Writing Fellow Sukriti Vats investigated the reality of the VanMitra portal, a tech-solution designed to simplify the process of securing land rights for tribal communities. Promised to be a transparent mode to file claims, the portal made securing land rights even more complex with a higher rejection rate. The portal was often inaccessible for villagers, triggering fears of land dispossession among communities.
Sukriti found a clear discrepancy between political promises of land titles ahead of elections and the portal’s actual performance. Read the detailed story of what she found across MP’s Damoh district. For a quick take, read this thread.
Even as political parties made tall claims in their election campaigns about recognising forest rights in Madhya Pradesh, tribal communities are increasingly being criminalised on the ground by the state administration. Our Legal Fellow Priyansha Chouhan travelled to MP’s Burhanpur and Khandwa which has seen a spurt in such atrocities and cases against tribal communities.
She found that tribal leaders and activists, who accused forest officials of colluding with timber smugglers, were arrested on false charges for demanding forest rights. Priyansha wrote for the Frontline magazine. She also wrote a quick thread on what she found.
India’s first-ever river-linking project aims to transfer water from the Ken River in Madhya Pradesh to the Betwa River in Uttar Pradesh. The project has seen scrutiny from environmentalists who have long pointed to the inherent risks in river-linking. It is also expected to displace thousands of people and submerge over 90 square kilometres of land, including a large part of the Panna Tiger Reserve.
Far from the election buzz, villagers protest the project, arguing that it will destroy their livelihoods and harm the environment. The government has offered compensation to affected villagers, but many contest that it might not be enough. Read the full report by our contributing researcher, Nikhil Ghanekar in Frontline.
We currently have 730 ongoing conflicts documented in the LCW database. Last month, our team of researchers added four new conflicts listed below:
Ahead of the state assembly elections, politicians have promised to implement the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA if elected. In Chhattisgarh, Arvind Kejriwal stated that his Aam Aadmi Party will implement PESA within a month of coming into power. In Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP of removing the Gram Sabha’s right to consent from the state PESA laws. But what do the rules made under the PESA Act actually say?
Our legal associate Anmol Gupta analysed the provisions of these rules, the dilutions in these rules and how they fall short of fulfilling the demands of tribal communities. Read here.
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Nayla Khwaja, Communication Officer
Furquan Ameen, Associate Editor