The Maharashtra government on Thursday agreed to reassess at least 7,000 claims for land rights to be made out to farmers under the Forest Rights Act, hours after around 20,000 farmers reached Azad Maidan in South Mumbai, a rally organiser said. The protestors, most of them Adivasis, had walked to the city from the adjoining district of Thane over two days.
Under the Forest Rights Act, traditional and other forest dwellers are entitled to claim land titles in their names. However, according to the Lok Sangharsh Morcha, which organised the march, the state government rejected 63% of such claims between March and September, without offering claimants the opportunity to respond. It is these claims that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has reportedly agreed to reassess.
Seven thousand of these claims are from Jalgaon, the district the Lok Sangharsh Morcha is based.
In March, around 50,000 farmers walked nearly 200 km from Nashik to Mumbai to demand the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, compensation for crop losses and for those displaced by river linking, as well as loan waivers and better prices for their crops. On March 12, the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha and the state government signed an agreement on these demands.
Eight months later, this group of Adivasi farmers had threatened to withhold their votes if they did not get land in their names. Both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are due next year. Most of those who attended the rally on Thursday came from the northern districts of Maharashtra, including Nandurbar, Jalgaon and Dhule as well as from Vidarbha, including Gadchiroli, Chandrapur and Gondia.
“We want forest land in our name,” said Lalsingh Tadvi from Nandurbar district, who applauded when he heard a speaker on stage speak of withholding their votes. He had not attended the March rally. Tadvi said that though his family has tilled land in his village since 1965, he still does not have land in his name.
The Shramik Elgar Sanghatana from Chandrapur also supported the rally.
“Because we do not have independent land records, we are unable to get compensation or any other government support,” said Rahul Sontakke from Chandrapur district. “When wild boars come and eat my crops, I am not allowed to do anything, nor do I get even the Rs 700 as compensation which the government sanctions.”
Ajit Navale, head of the All India Kisan Sabha in Maharashtra, extended his support to the protesting farmers as well. “We support this rally because we have raised the same demands several times in the past, including at the Kisan Long March,” he said.