Taking the mass RTI road to land rights
One landmark law, the Right to Information Act, has helped over a thousand adivasis in north Maharashtra in getting closer to their rights under another landmark law – the Forest Rights Act. The latter was legislated in 2006 giving forest dwelling and other adivasi communities individual and community rights to lands they had traditionally cultivated and occupied.
But communities in rural India have faced an uphill battle in getting the forest and administrative bureaucracy to transparently respond to their FRA claims, and to not reduce land sizes while making titles without giving any reasons to the claimant about the basis for doing so.
This had been the experience since 2008 of villagers in two adivasi blocks of Thane district too, who eventually decided this April to file mass RTI requests seeking reasons for the partial rejection of their FRA claims – over a thousand RTI applications were filed with the district officials.
The villagers asked for the following information:
When there was no response, over 400 first appeals were filed, but here too villagers were given no reasons in writing for why their claims had been rejected, reinforcing their suspicions that officials had acted arbitrarily in rejecting their FRA claims.
The villagers finally tasted victory on 28 August when the State Information Commissioner heard second appeals filed by 10 village representatives, who had been nominated by 10 gram sabhas. The Commissioner ordered that all 1271 applicants be given the information they had asked for within 8 weeks. He also ordered Rs 2000 in compensation be paid to each of the 10 appellants. More significantly, the SIC order also directs the state’s Revenue Secretary to proactively disclose such information from now on for claims made since April 2011, and update the information every month.
Maharashtra SIC order on FRA, August, 2013 (click here)
Citizens Report 2013 on the implementation of FRA - by Kalpavriksh, Vasundhara and Oxfam
The government’s FRA Status report in June 2013
Guidelines issued in July 2012 to states on implementing FRA
The government’s guidelines on suo moto disclosures, and a broader guide on using RTI
CIC Circular on Implementation of Section of the RTI Act 2005
Guide on RTI Act,
Image Courtesy: Vayam