Govind Kamat Maad
MARGAO: Shabu Kusado Gaonkar, a tribal from Yeda, Cotigao, Canacona, tills land and rears cattle for a living. His family has lived there for generations using forest land for grazing purposes. For the past several years forest personnel have not allowed his cattle to graze in the forest nor permitted him to plough land.
Baju Jano Suzaro from Mollem has been cultivating cashew, jackfruit, mango, millet, paddy, etc, in forest land as was done by his forefathers. But he does not have any ownership claims on the land or the produce. His family stays in a hut which is not electrified. About 25 houses of dhangars share Suzaro's fate.
The tribals were among 60 adivasis from across Goa who had deposed before the 'People's Tribunal' in Panaji on May 31, 2009. The tribunal for the restoration of adivasi homelands in Goa was headed by retired Bombay high court judge, Justice Hosbet Suresh.
With the state now taking steps to implement the Forest Rights Act, 2006, there's hope that the tribals' ownership rights over forest land they have been traditionally using to eke out their livelihood will be legally restored. Over 5,000 tribals are expected to benefit. But there's a potential spanner in the wheels.
As part of the Act's implementation, all panchayats in the tribal-dominated talukas of Sanguem, Quepem, Canacona and Dharbandora have been directed by the district magistrate to hold gram sabhas on July 22.
The aim of the gram sabhas is to set up forest rights committees which will receive, within three months, all claims from tribals of the respective village.
Under a statue of the Act, however, a quorum of 2/3rds of the adult population of the village has to be present at the gram sabha.
Tribal minister, Ramesh Tawadkar, when contacted, said he has already held meetings with the elected members and sarpanchas of all the tribal-dominated village panchayats and has asked them to create awareness about the Act and the gram sabha.
"If there is insufficient attendance for the quorum, the meeting can be adjourned till the quorum is achieved. But I am confident the gram sabhas will evoke the desired response. We have set a time-bound schedule for the Act's implementation," Tawadkar told TOI.
He said once the forest rights committees are constituted the government will set up facilitation centres in all the talukas to enable tribals to avail the benefits of the various government schemes.
All claims from tribals received by the forest rights committees will be verified and the committee will prepare a map delineating the area of each claim indicating recognizable landmarks.
A second gram sabha after three months will approve the claims and submit them to the sub-divisional committee headed by the sub-divisional officer (SDO). Following the approvals from the district-level and state-level committees, the claims-personal and community rights-will be settled under the Act. Tribal leaders are obviously pleased about the development. Dr Uday Gaonkar, special secretary of the United Tribals Alliance Association ( UTAA), which spearheaded the tribals' agitation last year, said the conferment of ownership rights over forest land to tribals will also help stop rampant destruction of Goa's environment by mining activities carried out in forest land.
[Courtesy: TOI, July 20, 2012]