Tribal districts report more land conflicts compared to other regions in the country

Laws enacted to protect the rights of tribal and forest dwelling communities have failed to deliver. Poor, marginalised tribal communities residing in resource rich districts face maximum land conflicts

Nidhi Jamwal
Environment Editor| Updated: Last updated on March 10th, 2020,

For the first time, a granular and highly representative data on land conflicts across the country corroborates “marginalised communities – such as tribes and those living in resource-rich but violence-afflicted areas – are disproportionately impacted by land and resource conflicts.”

Locating the Breach, a recently released report that maps the nature of land conflicts in the country, has found higher concentrations and intensities of land conflicts in tribal-dominated Fifth Schedule Areas (100 districts in 10 states) and districts affected by Left-wing extremism (90 districts in 11 states), many of which have high tribal population.

Of the total 703 ongoing land conflicts documented in the February 2020 report, 43 per cent (303 conflicts) have been reported from the Fifth Schedule Areas and Left-wing extremism affected districts in the country.

“Fifth Schedule Areas are spread over 13.6% of India’s districts, but these districts are home to 26% of all conflicts documented by LCW [Land Conflict Watch], 28.5% of all people impacted, and 41% of the recorded area under conflict,” reads the report based on three years of extensive field-work by Land Conflict Watch, a network of researchers spread across the country.

The report goes on to note while 12 per cent of India’s districts are affected by Left-wing extremism, these districts are the sites of 17 per cent of the conflicts documented. Further, they impact 15 per cent of all people affected by conflict and 31 per cent of the total recorded area under conflict.

Fifth Schedule Areas — 100 districts across 10 states of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana — have a preponderance of tribal populations with relatively higher levels of economic backwardness. The Constitution provides special administrative dispensation for these areas.

Left-wing extremism affected districts include 90 districts in 11 states (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala) identified by the Union ministry of home affairs. A large number of these districts are also tribal dominated. There is an overlap between Fifth Schedule Areas and Left-wing extremism districts in 21 districts.

“Our report, based on three-years long field-work, shows tribal-dominated areas have higher concentrations and intensities of land conflicts as compared to other regions in the country,” Kumar Sambhav, co-author of the recent report told Gaon Connection. “Marginalised communities living in resource-rich lands are embroiled in land conflicts, some of which are going on for decades,” he added.

Of the total 703 ongoing land conflicts documented in the February 2020 report, 43 per cent (303 conflicts) have been reported from the Fifth Schedule Areas and Left-wing extremism affected districts in the country. Pic: Nidhi Jamwal

Nature of land conflicts in India

A network of 42 researchers associated with Land Conflict Watch, spent three years in the field collecting information (primary and secondary sources) on various types of land conflicts.

The report defines land conflict as “any instance in which the use of, access to, and/or control over land and its associated resources are contested by two or more parties.” Land conflicts between two private parties are excluded unless the particular conflict has a larger underlying public interest.

The data collected by the researchers was analysed based on three broad parameters. These included number of people affected due to land conflicts, land area under contestation, and existing or potential capital investment embroiled in the dispute.

The researchers documented a total of 703 ongoing land conflicts affecting 6.5 million people spread over 2.1 million hectares (ha) land in the country. Evidence-based data on investments locked in land conflicts were available for only 335 of the 703 documented cases, and showed Rs 13.7 trillion (Rs 13.7 lakh crore) locked due to these conflicts.

For further analysis, the 703 documented land conflicts were categorised into six broad sectors: infrastructure, power, conservation and forestry, land use, mining, and industry. Results show that maximum land conflicts — 43 per cent — were reported in the infrastructure sector, followed by conservation and forestry related activities (15 per cent), such as compensatory afforestation plantations and wildlife conservation schemes (see Figure: The spread of 703 land conflicts across sectors).

Of the total 6.5 million people affected due to these conflicts, the researchers found more than three million people were affected by infrastructure projects alone, whereas mining-related land conflicts had the second-biggest impact affecting 852,488 people (see Figure: Sector-wise number of people affected by land conflicts).

Figure: Sector-wise number of people affected by land conflicts

Conservation and mining conflicts highest in tribal areas

The recent report, ‘Locating the Breach’, shows how tribal dominated areas in the country — Fifth Schedule Areas, and Left-wing extremism affected areas — have higher intensity of land conflicts.

Analysis of all the 703 documented conflicts showed the percentage of mining, and conservation and forestry related conflicts in areas with Left-wing extremism was more than double the national average.

“While they represent only 12% of India’s districts, areas with LWE [Left-wing extremism] accounted for 43% of all conservation and forestry conflicts and 36% of all mining conflicts,” reads the report. Further, the authors note, 41 per cent of conflicts in areas with Left-wing extremism involved non-implementation or violation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006, commonly known as FRA, 2006.

Somewhat similar are the findings from the Fifth Schedule Areas that reported “higher incidences of mining conflicts; indeed, 60% of all mining conflicts occurred in Fifth Scheduled districts.” Also, more people were impacted per conflict in Fifth Schedule districts than the national average for people affected per conflict.

1.2 million people affected by FRA related land conflicts

At the heart of land conflicts in the country, lie land laws and their implementation (or, non-implementation) and violations. For instance, the state’s acquisition of revenue lands is governed by either the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 (now repealed), the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, or state laws specifically enacted to enable the acquisition of land for certain categories of projects.

Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the lands designated by the government as forestlands, or those deemed to be forestlands following Supreme Court orders, are diverted for non-forest purposes and handed over for different economic activities and projects to private or other organisations.

In 2006, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, commonly known as FRA 2006, was enacted. It legally recognises and vests forest rights and occupation in forestlands by scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers that have inhabited and resided in the forests for generations. It also empowers gram sabhas to manage and govern the forestlands.

The February 2019 Report No 324 of Rajya Sabha titled ‘Status of Forest in India’ notes nearly 300 million tribals, other traditional forest dwellers and rural poor in the country derive their livelihoods mainly from forest resources. However, non-implementation and violation of FRA 2006 has lead to several land conflicts involving tribal and other forest dwelling communities.

For instance, as per the data released by the Union ministry of tribal affairs, which is the nodal ministry for implementation of the 2006 act, 4,198,793 claims (4,054,212 individual and 144,581 community claims) were filed up to April 30, 2018. Of these, about 1,866,919 titles (1,796,755 individual and 70,164 community claims) were distributed, which come to 45 per cent, or less than half of the claims awarded the titles.

Researchers of the recent report on land conflicts have documented 272 conflicts (of the total 703) related to the forestlands. Of these, 131 (18.6 per cent of the total conflicts) were linked to the violation or non-implementation of the FRA 2006. These 131 FRA-related conflicts impact 1.2 million people and a total land area of 368,138 ha.

“More than half of the conflicts involving the violation or non-implementation of the FRA are caused by conservation and forestry related activities,” notes the report (see figure: Sector-wise distribution of number of conflicts involving the non-implementation or violation of the FRA). Further, infrastructure projects embroiled in the violation or non-implementation of FRA affect 500,000 people, followed closely by conservation and forestry activities that affect over 473,000 people.

In terms of land area, FRA-related conflicts involving infrastructure activities affect 153,783 ha of land area, followed by conservation and forestry projects affecting 130,470 ha.

Figure: Sector-wise distribution of the number of conflicts involving the non-implementation or violation of the FRA

The land conflicts report also records how state governments’ driven afforestation/plantation drives are carried out on community forestlands being used by forest dwellers who have rights over these lands. The FRA 2006 empowers village assemblies to manage forest resources traditionally used by forest-dwelling communities. It does not allow any activity, even initiated by the government, on these lands without the consent of the people.

However, data analysed by the researchers of the Land Conflict Watch found 45 conflicts across India where forest officials had undertaken plantation drives in villages without obtaining the mandatory consent of the village assemblies.

A further in-depth analysis of 22 such conflicts showed that in 80 per cent of these cases, the state forest department did not take consent from the village assembly. Instead, traditional lands were fenced off. In more than half of these cases, the communities had already received titles under the FRA 2006, affirming their land rights, before the plantation drive began. In all the other cases, title claims were pending before authorities.

Researchers recorded such type of conflicts in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Telangana, covering over 100,000 ha of land. These lands were home to 56,480 forest dwellers who have claimed traditional rights over these parcels under FRA 2006.

Clearly, in both the infrastructure growth story and the conservation/forestry story of the country, it is the tribals and other marginalised communities facing increased land conflicts that have a direct bearing on their livelihoods. 

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