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Vol. III :: No. 4 | October - December, 2008

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  • Land Alienation of Tribals in India

    Alienation, a euphemistic term for grabbing the lands of the tribal peoples by non-tribals, is widespread in India. The Ministry of Rural Development of the Government of India in its 2007-2008 Annual Report states, “The State Governments have accepted the policy of prohibiting the transfer of land from tribals to nontribals and for restoration of alienated tribal lands to them. The States with large tribal population have since enacted laws for this purpose.”

    The 2007-2008 Annual Report further states, “Reports received from various States, indicate that 5.06 lakh cases of tribal land alienation have been registered, covering 9.02 lakh acres of land, of which 2.25 lakh cases have been disposed off in favour of tribals covering a total area of 5.00 lakh acres. 1.99 lakh cases covering an area of 4.11 lakh acres have been rejected by the Courts on various grounds”.

    However, there are serious causes of concerns. Not a single case out of 29,596 cases of alienation and restoration of tribal land has been ruled in favour of the tribals in Madhya Pradesh. In Orissa, an overwhelming 43,213 out of 104,644 cases were decided against the tribals. This was followed by Tripura where an overwhelming 20,043 cases out of the 29,112 cases were rejected.

    AITPN reports about land alienation of the tribals in India.

    Andhra Pradesh:

    Despite having stringent provisions under the Andhra Pradesh Schedule Areas Land Transfer Regulation of 1959 to protect the lands of the tribals in the Scheduled Areas, the tribals face alienation of their lands.

    The rate of alienation of tribal land is alarming in Andhra Pradesh. Nontribals presently hold as much as 48 per cent of the land in Scheduled Areas of the state. Since the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation came into effect in 1959, 72,001 cases of land alienation have been filed involving 3,21,685 acres of land in the state. The tribals are losing their legal fight to recover their lands. Of the 72,001 cases registered under the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation, 70,183 cases were disposed of and 33,319 cases (47.47 per cent) were decided against tribals involving 1,62,989 acres of land. As of January 2007, about 300 cases were pending in Andhra Pradesh High Court involving about 2,500 acres of land under the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation.[1]

    Assam:

    The All Assam Tribal Sangha (AATS) and other tribal organisations of the State have alleged widespread violation of land transfer rules and regulations in the existing 9 tribal belts and 28 blocks in the State. Cases of transferring of land to non-tribals or non-bonafide people were on the rise.[2]

    Non-tribal and non-bonafide people had bought plots of land individually or in the name of private school, societies, trust etc and they later used the plots for commercial purpose.[3]

    The tribal peoples and their organization blame the State Government and its agencies, most particularly the Circle Revenue offices for massive alienation of tribal lands to non-tribals and persons of doubtful nationality in complete violation of the Assam Land Revenue Regulation Act 1886.

    In May 2007, it was reported that a section of politicians and the local Revenue officials had allotted 22.5 bighas of fertile agricultural land under tribal belts and blocks in Parbotjhora subdivision of Bodo Territorial Council to as many as 34 non-tribal Muslim families. The Assistant Settlement Officer of Bagribari revenue circle had sent a proposal to the Deputy Commissioner of Dubri district to the effect that 22.5 bighas of land should be allotted to these families. Lands in the tribal belts had already been allotted for a burial ground as well as to 13 families of non-tribal religious minorities in Bagaribari revenue circle.[4]

    Jharkhand:

    In Jharkhand, cases of alienation of tribal land have risen despite two laws - Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Parangan Tenancy Act to prevent sale of tribal land to nontribals in the state. A total of 2,608 cases have been filed by tribals with the Special Area Regulation Court in 2003-2004, which increased to 2,657 cases in 2004-2005 and further to 3,230 cases in 2005-2006. As of January 2007, 3,789 cases have been filed with the Special Area Regulation Court in 2007 for recovery of tribal lands.[5]

    Lack of lawyers to take up land-related cases of the tribals further delayed adjudication. Around 5,500 land-related cases of tribals were pending in various district courts in Jharkhand as of March 2007. The government of Jharkhand had an annual budget of Rs 50 lakh to provide legal assistance to poor tribals to pursue their landrelated cases. However, less than 10 per cent of the total allocated budget was spent over the last six years. Lawyers were unwilling to fight cases on behalf of tribals seeking government assistance. The offer of Rs 5,000 per case was cited as one of the main reasons for pendency of land-related cases in courts.[6]

    In February 2007, the Supreme Court allowed a tribal petitioner to file a fresh petition before the Jharkhand High Court for recovery of his land from a mining company. In its order, the Supreme Court held that the Jharkhand High Court was wrong to dismiss the petition of Surendra Dehri, a tribal who alleged that over 10,000 acres of “notified tribal land” had been usurped by mining contractors in connivance with the government officials. The High Court had dismissed his petition saying that it involved only “private interest”. But a bench of Supreme Court comprising Justices B.N. Agarwal and P.P. Naolekar stated that a clear violation of constitutional guarantees given to the tribals could not be held to be related to “private interest”.[7]

    The tribals of Jharkhand have also been protesting against the implementation of Koel Karo hydroelectric project by National Hydroelectric Corporation over the Koel and Karo rivers. The project, if implemented, would submerge as many as 256 villages involving 50,000 acres of forest area, 40,000 acres of agricultural land and 300 forest groves (considered sacred by the tribals), 175 churches and 120 Hindu temples.[8]

    Karnataka

    The state government failed to prevent further alienation of the lands of tribal people. According to the Annual Report 2007-08 of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, a total of 42,582 cases alleging alienation of 130,373 acres of land have been filed in the court in Karnataka. The courts disposed off 38,521 cases out of which 21,834 cases involving 67,862 acres of land have been decided in favor of tribals and 16,687 cases involving 47,159 acre of land have been rejected. About 4,061 cases were pending in the court.[9]

    Kerala:

    The State government failed to act on alienation of the lands of tribal peoples or to compensate those who have been forcibly displaced. About 500 tribal families were given ‘pattayams’ (land deeds) by the then Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar in 1999 in lieu of 10,000 acres that was alienated from them in Attappady. The state government of Kerala had failed to allot any land to landless tribals of Attappaddy by December 2007.[10]

    In November 2007, Communist Party of India (Marxists) cadres forcibly took over lands earmarked for distribution to Adivasis, indigenous peoples in Munnar. In 2003, following killings of the Adivasi protestors at Muthanga, the State government allotted an acre of land each in Chinnakanal to more than 700 tribal families. However after four years, only 540 families have received land. Some 200 tribal families have built makeshift huts on government land in Munnar in protest.[11] But on 26 November 2007, they were attacked by CPI-M cadres. Over 2,000 CPI-M cadres captured a 1,500-acre stretch of government land in Munnar’s Chinnakkanal area and forced the 200 Adivasi families to flee. The CPI-M cadres destroyed the huts of the Adivasis and put up party flags to symbolize their victory. They fenced off the area and began constructing their own huts there.[12]

    On 20 February 2007, K.P. Rajendran, Minister for Revenue of Kerala Government stated that there were 22,000 tribal families in the State without land.[13]

    Madhya Pradesh:

    According to Ministry of Rural Development of Government of India, Madhya Pradesh has the distinction of not deciding a single case in favour of the tribals after adjudication of 29,596 cases decided by 2007. Another 24,210 cases were pending in the court. A total of 53,806 cases involving 158,398 acres of land were filed in the court in the Madhya Pradesh.[14]

    The government of Madhya Pradesh failed to implement the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Tribal peoples faced evictions from their forest dwellings although they have lived there for generations.

    On 19 April 2007, several tribal forest dwellers, including women and children, were injured when the police opened fire on them after they resisted eviction at Gateha village of Teonthar tehsil in Rewa district.[15]

    In December 2007, forest dwellers from Nepanagar in Burhanpur district were beaten up and forcefully evicted from their villages by the State Forest department authorities after they were treated as encroachers on forest lands.[16]

    Maharashtra:

    Maharashtra has a number of laws, such as the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966, that prohibit the transfer of tribal land without prior permission of the District Collector. As the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966 failed, the government of Maharashtra enacted Maharashtra Land Revenue Code and Tenancy Laws (Amendment) Act, 1974 which provided that no tribal can transfer his land to a non-tribal, by way of sale (including sales in execution of a decree of a Civil Court or an award or order of any Tribunal or authority), gift, exchange, mortgage, lease or otherwise transfer without the previous sanction (a) of the Collector, in the case of mortgage or lease for a period not exceeding five years, and (b) of the Collector, with previous approval of Government, in other cases with effect from 6th July, 1974.[17]

    The government of Maharashtra itself admitted that permissions by the District Collectors “appear to have been given as a matter of routine. The tribals were also induced to sell their lands because of indebtedness and poverty.”[18]

    In order to restore the alienated lands of the tribals, the state government enacted the Maharashtra Restoration of Lands to Scheduled Tribes Act, 1974. This Act provides for restoration to a tribal his/her land transferred to a non-tribal during the period from 1 April 1957 to 6 July 1974 as a result of validly effected transfers (including, exchanges).[19]

    But both the land protection law - Maharashtra Land Revenue Code and Tenancy Laws (Amendment) Act, 1974 and the land restoration law - Maharashtra Restoration of Lands to Scheduled Tribes Act, 1974 have failed to check further alienation of the tribal land or restore alienated lands. According to the Annual Report 2007-08 of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, a total of 45,634 cases have been filed in the court in the state. 44,624 cases have been disposed of by the court, of which 19,943 cases (44.7%) involving 99,486 acres of land have been disposed of in favor of tribals and 24,681 cases (55.3%) against tribals. 1,010 cases were pending in the court.[20]

    Orissa:

    There has been massive alienation of tribal lands in Orissa. According to the Annual Report 2007-08 of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, a total of 105,491 cases alleging alienation of 104,742 acres of land have been filed in the court in Orissa. An estimated 104,644 cases were disposed of by the court. Out of these 61,431 cases were disposed of in favor of tribals and 56,854 acres of land was restored to tribals.[21]

    Rajashtan:

    The state government failed to check alienation of tribal lands. According to the Annual Report 2007-08 of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, a total of 2,084 cases of land alienation involving 6,615 acres of land have been filed in the court in Rajasthan. 1,257 cases have been disposed of by the court, of which only 187 cases (involving 587 acres of land) have been disposed of in favor of tribals while 53 cases involving 187 acres were rejected.[22]

    Unless the Central governments and State governments take effective measures to provide effective legal aid for restoration of the tribal lands, the current process of providing legal aid to the tribals to restore their lands could be reduced to legalizing the illegal land grabbing.

    (Footnotes)

    1. Half of tribal land grabbed, The Deccan Chronicle, 29 January 2007
    2. Concern over transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals, The Assam Tribune, 1 February 2007
    3. Concern over transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals, The Assam Tribune, 1 February 2007
    4. ABSU: Design to allot tribal land to ‘minorities’, The Sentinel, 26 May 2007
    5. Tribal land grab cases on rise in Jharkhand, The Pioneer, 14 February 2007
    6. Jharkhand lawyers not interested in land cases of tribals, The Hindustan Times, 5 September 2007
    7. SC snubs land order, The Telegraph, 12 February 2007
    8. Koel Karo: Tribal surge that stalled a dam, The Times of India, 5 June 2007
    9. see http://rural.nic.in/annualrep0708/ anualreport0708_eng.pdf
    10. Landless tribals in the lurch, The Hindu, 9 December 2007
    11. After CPM men attack activist, tribals refuse to vacate Munnar land, The Indian Express, 29 November 2007
    12. After Nandigram, red terror in Munnar, The Indian Express, 28 November 2007
    13. Distribution of land to tribal people to be completed soon: Rajendran, The Hindu, 21 February 2007
    14. see http://rural.nic.in/annualrep0708/ anualreport0708_eng.pdf
    15. Governor’s intervention sought in Rewa firing, The Pioneer, 24 April 2007
    16. Forest dwellers allege eviction, The Hindu, 15 December 2007
    17. Maharashtra Tribal Development, see “MEASURES AGAINST ALIENATION OF LAND BELONGING TO ST’S” available at http://www.maharashtra. gov.in/english/tribal/
    18. Maharashtra Tribal Development, see “MEASURES AGAINST ALIENATION OF LAND BELONGING TO ST’S” available at http://www.maharashtra. gov.in/english/tribal/
    19. Maharashtra Tribal Development, see “MEASURES AGAINST ALIENATION OF LAND BELONGING TO ST’S” available at http://www.maharashtra. gov.in/english/tribal/
    20. see http://rural.nic.in/annualrep0708/ anualreport0708_eng.pdf
    21. see http://rural.nic.in/annualrep0708/ anualreport0708_eng.pdf
    22. see http://rural.nic.in/annualrep0708/ anualreport0708_eng.pdf
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