December 5, 2023
On April 29, 2023, the state government introduced a circular to determine the monetary value of forest land, for when land held by tribals is acquired for industries or development projects. The circular only dealt with individual forest rights (IFR) holders.
This new circular reiterated parts of previous circulars, issued in February 2020 and May 2022. However, internal documents accessed by LCW reveal that the April circular was issued in response to a query by the Sundargarh district collector.
This query arose from 50 pending claims for compensation for land lost to two mining projects. Collector's query also stated that land acquisition was being carried out continuously in the district.
The circular was intended to be a ‘comprehensive’ set of guidelines. However, it ignores key steps in the land acquisition procedure such as the social impact assessment study and the requirement to take consent from the gram sabha.
The circular also mentions rehabilitation measures to be taken according to existing laws. But community leaders like Rajendra Naik of Jan Shakti Vikash Parishad (JSVP) contend how the state rehabilitation laws exclude tribals who do not have agricultural or homestead land.
In addition, the circular ignores many other rights under the Forest Rights Act that would be lost if the tribals lost access to forest land. JSVP's Naresh Meher states that tribals are completely dependent on the forest for their livelihood as well.
It provides no answer for the future of such tribals. Revenue officials claimed that the pre-existing protections under the 2013 Land Acquisition Act will still be applicable. The circular was issued to deal with “confusion” among the ground officials, they said.
However, what is missing from this discussion is that tribal rights are not meant to be handled by the revenue department in the first place. Officials from the ST&SC Development department stated that they had not been consulted and the matter would be addressed internally.
Odisha is one of the leading states for FRA implementation in the country. It is also home to many land conflicts between tribal communities and industries. One of the recurring issues plaguing these conflicts is the lack of FRA recognition in the first place.
Eighty-eight land conflicts across the country in the LCW database explicitly see this friction. These conflicts often see communities refusing to give up their land for projects (54% of conflicts), or demanding to retain access to common resources (42% of conflicts).
Land titles under FRA aren't meant to be transferable or be acquired. Sankar Pani, an Odisha high court advocate, said, “The government doesn’t recognise these rights in the first place. At the end of the day, tribals are deprived of their rights by procedural means.”
To check out more of these land conflicts, check out our database at https://landconflictwatch.org/all-conflicts.