India’s Tribal people, and other forest dwellers, gain the right to their land
In 2006, tribal villagers across India were granted the right to own the land they had farmed when the Forest Rights Act was passed into law – a right denied to them up until then, and one that required hard legal battles and involved intense social mobilisation and political jockeying. Converting this right into legal title, to be jointly held by an adult couple, required mapping, documentary proof, and several levels of approval – a difficult exercise for communities which are amongst the poorest in India.
But require help to prepare their claims
In India’s western state of Gujarat, the NGO, Action Research in Community Health & Development (ARCH), and Liberty Institute have been collaborating to help tribal communities prepare and substantiate claims for their traditional land, using simple hand-held GPS instruments to survey their holdings, and map these onto satellite imagery.
This initiative flowed from the grass-roots, and with some training inputs from ARCH Vahini, the bulk of the mapping work is carried out by resident villagers. Our work resulted in a total of 12,000 claims being prepared and submitted for approval. About 90% of the claims submitted were approved on the basis of this evidence.
Without help, their claims are rejected
In the rest of tribal Gujarat, a total of 1,80,000 claims had been filed, but only about 50,000 claims have been approved. More than 128,000 claims were rejected. We believe that all most of these claims are genuine, and were rejected due to a very narrow definition of what satellite imagery was acceptable. Experiences in other states are quite similar, either the claims are rejected, or the actual approval been given for only a fraction of the area claimed.
High Court directs speedy redressal
ARCH filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High Court, seeking relief for the tribal claimants in August, 2011. In the judgement dated May 3, 2013 the High Court has directed the State Administration to expedite the clearance of these claims, expressly broadening the scope of acceptable imagery. We believe this will lead to speedy redressal for the 128, 800 families that are reflected in the Court Order.
We need your help to help them
As a direct consequence, ARCH has been swamped by requests from tribal families across Gujarat, to help prepare their claims. We have our work cut out to prepare and substantiate hundreds of thousands of claims. But the benefits will last generations. Expanding the process will aid millions, across India.
All we need is more GPS instruments, upgrade to a GIS web platform to facilitate processing the growing volume of data,
and funding to help us reach out to and train more communities.