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Tribals' court victory in Gujarat land rights dispute

ucanews.com reporter, Ahmedabad
India

May 6, 2013

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Gujarat’s High Court has ordered the state government to consider land claims of 128,000 tribal people, a major victory following a lengthy legal process.

In its decision on Friday, the court said the authorities would have to consider land claims and that applicants be allotted the same land that they have farmed for generations.

Gujarat has previously seen unrest after the state government refused to recognize tribal land rights in 12 districts even after a new government act passed in 2006 which was supposed to uphold these rights.

In response, two NGOs filed a petition to the High Court which led to Friday’s decision.

Ambish Mehta of Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCHID), one of the NGOs behind the petition, said the decision could provide relief and land security to thousands of minority tribal people in Gujarat.

“The state government has been biased against tribals,” she said, following the decision.

India’s forests are home to millions of people, particularly minorities, with the government able to declare any area 'reserved,' threatening homes and livelihoods.

In February 2008, a group of tribal people forcibly took over forest land in Antarsuba village in Gujarat, leading to evictions by the police during which two people were killed and dozens injured.

Fearing that the tribal movement would spread further, the state government set up a committee headed by retired bureaucrat PK Laheri to investigate the issue and produce public findings.

Laheri reported that “conflict between tribals and the forest department was due to the forest department’s negative attitude towards the forest rights of the community and the state government must change its attitude and cooperate fully in implementing the Forest Rights Act of 2006.”

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