November 2, 2023
Pitched as digital solution to pending forest rights, #VanMitra was meant to help Adivasis. But did it manage to do that? Our Writing Fellow @sukriti_vats traveled to the election-bound state to find just that. A thread.
MP was the first state to digitise the process of reviewing Forest Rights Act (FRA) claims in 2019 through this online portal. The rejection rates of #FRA claims, however, soared after its introduction.
The portal had assured transparency and minimise human errors. Instead, MP villagers allege that VanMitra has made the process of filing claims even harder and has largely remained non-functional after 2020.
While the BJP and the Congress try to woo tribals in the state with promises of forest land titles before the upcoming #MadhyaPradeshElection2023, none of them have raised the issues around VanMitra.
Sukriti visited MP's Damoh district and found that even the villagers who had filed the claims in 2019 didn’t know its status. These villagers had filed claims through government-mandated kiosks because they lacked technological knowledge and access to gadgets.
Residents of one village, Kosmada, had to travel 12 kms to another village where the internet connectivity was better and accessible than their village. VanMitra had turned into a portal that failed to deliver.
As per state tribal department officials, the website was down only temporarily under maintenance and it never stopped accepting claims, but villagers allege otherwise.
There were allegations of dilution of the law. Bundelkhand Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan alleged that Gram Sabha powers were diluted. After the verification and recommendations of #ForestRightsCommittee, Sabhas are instrumental in forwarding proposals in favour of claimants
The login credentials of VanMitra were given only to the Forest Rights Committee instead, which often were taken over by Panchayat officials . They had the final authority to pass the claims as legitimate, which they freely did at the behest of forest and revenue authorities
Some claimants from Oria Mal found that despite Gram Sabha ruling in their favour, VanMitra showed rejection at the primary level.
Meanwhile, Kosmada residents who are still waiting to know the status of their claims are being dispossessed from their land, which is in contradiction to the Supreme Court's direction that no action was to be taken in case of rejected claimants until further order.