Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has urged the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to amend the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to modify eligibility criteria for other traditional forest dwellers like SCs and OBCs. “It is proposed to modify the eligibility criteria for other traditional forest dwellers, including Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes, so that they also become eligible for availing the rights if they have resided in the forest prior to 13th December, 2005. “It is, therefore, requested that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs may consider affecting the requisite amendments in the Forest Rights Act,” Patnaik wrote to Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram.
Claiming that Odisha was a pioneer state in implementing FRA wherein more than 4 lakh titles were distributed mostly to Scheduled Tribe forest dwellers, Patnaik said it was observed that the benefits have largely been extended to the tribals and not to other forest dwelling communities including SCs and OBCs. According to the provisions of the FRA, while STs are eligible for availing the rights if they resided in the forest prior to December 13, 2005, other traditional forest dwellers would have to live in the forest for over three generations or 75 years.
Around 30,000 claims were filed by other traditional forest dwellers in Odisha, so far only 73 titles have been distributed, Patnaik said in the letter. The reason for such abysmally low number of titles being issued to other traditional forest dwellers was primarily due to the heavy burden of proof cast upon the claimants to provide evidence of their occupation in the forest land from 1930. Patnaik said that the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 has played a vital role in recognising and vesting of rights on favour of STs who have been residing in the forests for generations.