Maoists, Jharkhand govt locked in tug of war

Fighting extremists with land pattas

BJ Mirror Correspondent

Maoists and Jharkhand administration are locked in a tug of war over distribution of pattas (land lease documents) to the tribals. Over one lakh adivasi households are to benefit from this government bonanza under the Forests Act. The state government has also directed its district officials to review and withdraw land encroachment cases filed against the tribals by the Forest department. In certain villages innocent tribals refused to accept the land pattas but only accept them later.

These steps are part of government initiatives to wean away unwary tribals from the Maoist and other extremist groups. But, the gun-toting Maoists have threatened the aboriginals not to accept forest land pattas or any such documents. Officials say that 18 of 24 districts are tribal dominated and prone to naxalite influences. Dense forests in these districts are main hide-outs of extremist groups of all hues.

The implementation of the Forest Act gained top priority after the Operation Greenhunt made the district administrations realise that speeding up the task of distributing land documents to tribal villagers would only add teeth to the ongoing fight against Maoist rebels. In some areas, deputy commissioners have got down to implementing the Act in the face of stiff opposition from Maoists, who do not want them to succeed so that the villagers can continue to feel ‘disillusioned’, official sources said. The process of withdrawing cases of encroachment on forest land, filed against villagers by the Forest department, too has got accelerated in a bid to woo tribals away from the Maoists.

For fear of the Maoist guns “people are not coming to claim the land they are tilling. Those, whose pattas are ready, are also not coming up to take them”, officials in West Singhbhum said. They said that extremists have “threatened tribals not to take any benefits from the government”. The district administration has already distributed over 1,100 land pattas. Special drives are being carried out in 14 forest villages of Chaibasa, considered Maoist strongholds, to hand over land pattas.

The official said that in Manoharpur and Goelkera blocks, the Maoists have warned villagers against collecting pattas from the government. These two blocks are inaccessible by roads throughout the year, they said.
It may be noted here that Jharkhand has a sizeable tribal population and over one lakh tribal households stand to benefit from the Forests Act. Sankaranarayanan, the then Governor, had taken the implementation of the Act very seriously and had ordered the administration to distribute one lakh pattas by December 2009. However, only 800 pattas could be distributed during the period.

According to official sources, the state has since made rapid strides and around 5,000 pattas have been distributed. Another 30,000 applications are being verified by different district administrations. “The work of inviting and verifying the applications and making pattas has now picked up tempo. We are speeding up the work so that the faith of the villagers in the government increases”, said M.N. Kerketta, tribal welfare commissioner, the nodal officer ensuring implementation of the Act.

In the rebel heartland of Palamu, the administration has already distributed 174 pattas and another 300 applications are being verified. A committee has also been formed to review encroachment cases, filed by the forest department, so that they can be withdrawn. The districts of West and East Singhbhum, Ranchi, Latehar, Lohardagga, Palamu, Gumla, Simdega and Khunti are areas with large concentration of tribal population. It is in these districts with huge forest tracts that the Maoists are at their strongest. Therefore, winning the confidence of the tribal villagers is important for the battle against the Naxalites to be won, said Kerketta.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 grants title rights or ownership to land that is being actually cultivated by tribals or forest dwellers as on December 13, 2005, subject to a maximum of four hectares.


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