Monday, June 28, 2010

Despite new laws, tribal people of India still need land rights

Two years ago India's Forest Rights Act was passed. The law was applauded by human rights advocates for India's indigenous people. The tribes live in the forest areas of central India and make up 8 percent of the population. The people lived of the resources of the forests but have never had any rights to the land of their ancestors. The Forest Rights Act was supposed to change that, but the law has been prone to lack of use and corruption.

From Reuters Alert Net, writer Nita Bhalla explains the hard life the tribal people experience and how the law was to help.

Social indicators of tribal communities and other forest-dwellers are amongst the worst in the country, where health problems related to child malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea are widespread and literacy rates fall well below the national average.

But for generations, these impoverished communities have had to deal with a much bigger threat - the threat of losing their homes and livelihoods.

Forest-dwellers say for years they have been treated as criminals - often beaten, forcefully evicted or jailed for refusing to leave the land their forefathers cultivated - by forestry officials, who deny the claims, as well as illegal mining and logging firms.

After years of struggling for their land rights, the government finally passed the Recognition of Forest Rights Act in 2006 and notified into force in 2008 - aimed at ensuring security of tenure and access to minor forest produce such bamboo, honey, wax, medicinal plants and fish.

But more than two years later, the landmark legislation - which overturned centuries-old colonial legislation made by the British to exploit India's rich forest resources - has not shown the results hoped for.

The ministry of tribal affairs' 2009/10 annual report shows only about 25 percent of the 2.6 million claims made for recognition of land rights have been awarded title deeds.

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