Due to the high rejection rate by the Gujarat state for forest land ownership certificates submitted by tribals, the MGNREGA Workers Union and Eklavya Sangathan on Tuesday pressed for effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the MGNREG Act, 2005 in Gujarat.
The workers’ union claimed that the Gujarat state refuses to grant land entitlement certificates to tribals and their communities who have lived in an area for decades.
Speaking at a press conference in Ahmedabad on Tuesday,
Hemantkumar Shah, president, MGNREGA Workers Union said that Gujarat – where tribals account for around 16 per cent of the population – has seen over 1.90 lakh claims for ‘sanad’, or land entitlement, by forest dwellers, from 3,199 villages across 12 districts to obtain land ownership certificates.
The claims include those filed individually (1.82 lakh) and collectively (7,182).
However, the state government has approved only 80,540 individual claims and 4,599 community claims. This, Shah said, shows that the state has rejected about 56 per cent of the claims it received; thus, refusing to grant land entitlement certificates to tribals.
Shah emphasised the fact that even among the accepted claims, tribal farmers have been given far less land than their claims. For instance, for a claim of 5-10 acres of land, the state has approved only 5-7 gunthas (around 0.1 acre).
Shah said that the only evidence accepted by the state for land ownership in such cases is receipts of fines imposed on tribal farmers by government officials, but proof of identity like the Aadhar card, the voters’ ID card, or electricity bills.
Tribal Development department secretary S. Murali Krishna refused to comment on the issue.
Shah and the workers’ union general secretary Paulomee Mistry also alleged that the purpose of “gainful employment”, as envisaged under MGNREGA, was not being fulfilled due to “widespread corruption” and a delay in payment of wages by several months when the act stipulates payments within 15 days.
They highlighted that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a mass return of migrant workers to their native villages, the annual average man-day employment in Gujarat was only 43 during the financial year 2020-21— much less than the 100 days a person is entitled to under the act.
“We are not demanding anything extraordinary. We are only demanding that the law be effectively implemented,” said Shah and Mistry.
Notwithstanding the act, which mandates that the wages under MGNREGA must be equal to the minimum wage for farm labour, pay structures have not been adhered to, the union leaders pointed out. Wages for MGNREGA has been fixed at Rs 229 against a minimum wage of Rs 324 for farm labour.
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