In Jitra Tungri of Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district, the forest department seizes land in areas traditionally used by locals for cultivation, for accessing forest produce, for grazing livestock and burying the dead.
A Union government scheme is operational in the state wherein the clearing of forests for a project in one place is compensated for by planting the area of degraded forest land or non-forest land elsewhere. The selection of land in the scheme allegedly targets mostly the Adivasi lands.
The villagers of Jitra Tungri claim that the authorities are laying hands on their land to make up the forests cut down in other places for facilitating mining projects.
The Jharkhand forest department has been using arbitrary measures like digging pits and trenches, and planting trees in land under cultivation. The locals say that the trees planted are of no use to them and the trenches prevent carts or tractors from reaching the farmlands, forcing the farmers to stop cultivation and pushing them to destitution and poverty.
Despite the villagers pointing the forest officials towards alternative plots less suitable for farming, the department ignored all suggestions and razed the farms.
The majority of Jitra Tungri’s population belongs to the scheduled tribe category who oppose the afforestation project of the forest department. The jungle is integral to their tribal identity, and the loss of forest land and its products has shattered their lives.
From 2009 to 2023, India approved 305,000 hectares of forest land to be taken for non-forest use for 17,301 projects. A one-fifth of these forests were lost to mining alone in this period. At the same time, during this period, states and Union territories were asked to undertake compensatory afforestation. The process of increasing forest cover as claimed, was operationalised at the cost of displacing and persecuting tribal populations.
The forest land of Jharkhand covers 29.8% of its total area, which is higher than the national average. Also, the state of Jharkhand hosts most of the above-mentioned projects.
The afforestation in question has disturbed people’s farming, pastoralism and other forest-dependent activities which fall under individual or community forest rights as enshrined in the landmark Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 commonly known as Forest Rights Act or FRA.
This is not the first time forest rights in India have come in conflict with controversial plantation schemes, as many tribal rights organisations have reported. Most of the forest related policies in India are outrightly at odds with the Forest Rights Act, leaving people’s fate to the hands of local administration, experts say.