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26 May 2018

Land rights for forest dwellers in GTA area

Binay Tamang at the meeting in Darjeeling on Friday
Vivek Chhetri, TT, May 26, 2018, Darjeeling: The Bengal government has decided to grant land rights to forest dwellers in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) area, moving to enforce a law finalised four years ago.

S.K. Thade, principal secretary, backward classes welfare department on Friday held a meeting with Binay Tamang, chairperson, GTA board of administration in the presence of district magistrates of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and officials of the land and land reforms and forest department.

Tamang said: "The green signal for starting the process of granting land right to forest dwellers have been given by the state government. We are thankful to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the Bengal government."

The Centre had passed The Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act in 2006 and the Bengal government had issued a gazette notification for its implementation on October 17, 2014.

While forest dwellers in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts were given land rights the same had not been implemented in the GTA area in the absence of gram panchayats.

"It has not been agreed that a new notification for the GTA area will be issued by the Bengal government as there is not panchayat system in place in the hills as yet," said Tamang.

The state government has already identified 149 forest villages in registered forest land and 19 forest villages in non-registered forest land.

"A sub-divisional level committee and district level committee, chaired by the district magistrates with representatives from the GTA will be formed. Campaign to create awareness will start immediately. Forest villagers will be given three months time to make their claims over their land," said Tamang.

Residents of the forest village had been demanding that land rights be granted to them before the green signal is given for construction of rail link to Sikkim.

"I had raised the issue with the state government on November 21, 2017 and on February 7, 2018 with the state government. I had been telling the villagers that the process would start soon and now I am happy to state that the process has finally started," said Tamang.

The state's positive response towards forest villagers and also the GTA's decision to initiate Nijo Griha Njo Bhumi Pralkapo in which landless and homeless, even if they are occupying government land, are given land rights, is expected to bring a windfall for Tamang.

There is huge enthusiasm among the hill residents - almost 60 percent of the population does not have land rights, over the GTA's initiative.

It is, however, not yet clear whether tea garden residents can be immediately given land rights through this scheme as this has not been implanted in the plains garden.

The scheme was launched in Bengal on October 18, 2011, but the same could not be continued in the hills after Bimal Gurung, the then chief executive, GTA, was unhappy that the distribution was being done without consulting the GTA.

"These two initiatives has come as a major fillip for Tamang going by the enthusiasm among the hill people," said an observer.

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