Amend Forest Rights Act to enable title holders to secure institutional credit, other reliefs


By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao

The specific embargo created on transfer of forest title lands recognised under the Recognition of Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 to others, is disempowering the tribals to secure credit and finance benefit from the approved credit and finance institutions for improving their livelihoods. The credit and finance is a vital input for both the growth and development in the agriculture sector. There are about 91758 forest land title holders who are having forest land an extent of 2,24,262  acres  as of March, 2018 in the State of Andhra Pradesh.

The title given over the forest lands under the FRA 2006   is a formal recognition of forests right which vested in the right holders under section 3(1) of the Act, in the form of a signed document by the District Level Committee, chaired by the District Collector. It shall be registered jointly in the name of both the spouses or a single head in case only one head is alive as the case may be.

However the Section 4(4) of the FRA says that “a right conferred by sub-section (1) of Section 3 shall be heritable but not alienable or transferable”.  In view of the embargo created under Section 4(4) of the FRA thousands of tribal farmers are unable to raise the credit and finance from banks and other financial institutions approved by the State Government, for improving their livelihoods on the basis of the title deeds issued under FRA.

It may be mentioned here there are several other laws which have been in force  also prohibit the transfer of lands between the parties as such in the case of FRA, but these laws are exempting the land holders to raise the credit from the credit institutions through mortgage  lands without possession.

For instance, the Section 3(1) (a) AP Scheduled Area Land Transfer Regulations 1 of 59 as amended by 1 of 70 (APSALTR) prohibits the transfer of lands not only between tribals and non tribals but also among the non tribals in the Scheduled Areas of Andhra Pradesh.  Subsequently to overcome the difficulty in the mortgage of land in favour of credit and financial institutions the AP Scheduled Area Land Transfer Regulation was amended in 1971 through an insertion of a new clause Section 3A, so as to permit the mortgages of land without Possession by individuals in favour of any Cooperative Society including Land Mortgage Bank any commercial banks and other financial institutions approved by the State Government.

Similarly the Section 3 of the Andhra Pradesh Assigned Lands (Prohibition of Transfers) Act, 1977 also prohibits the transfer of assigned lands and acquisition of such lands in contravention of Section 3 is deemed to be null and void. With a view to removing the difficulty, a legal exemption was incorporated under Section 6 of the Assigned Lands Act which enables the assignee to mortgage the assigned land to a Co-operative Society, scheduled bank and any financial institution owned, controlled or managed by the State Government or the Central Government as may be notified by the State Government.

But there is no such corresponding provision under the FRA to exempt the title holders to seek the institutional credit for which the tribal farmers are unable to claim relief or loans.

Record of Rights is crucial to secure loans as well as the monitory reliefs. Vesting the forest land title details in the Revenue Records for the purpose of Record of Rights is a first challenge. Infact Record of Rights do not create new rights but raises rebuttable legal presumption that such rights exist.  The Rule 12 A of the Amendment Recognition of Forest Rights Rules, 2012 provides that on completion of the process of recognition of rights and issue of titles under the Rules, the Revenue and the Forest Departments shall prepare a final map of forest land so vested and the concerned authorities shall incorporate the forest rights so vested in the revenue and the forest records within the specified period of record updation under the relevant State laws or within a period of three months, whichever is earlier.

The Government of AP issued Go MS No 94 (Social Welfare(LTR-1) Department on 10-9-2009 directing all the concerned officers to maintain record on the rights given to the forest land  title holders under Recognition of Forest Rights Act on the basis of a proforma furnished by the Chief Commissioner of Land Administration. The Tribal Welfare Department is on the task to incorporate the details of the forest titled lands in the webland created for the purpose of revenue lands. But this effort is not enough to secure Record of Rights.

In fact the AP Rights in Land and Pattadar Pass books Act 1971(for short RoR Act) as amended time to time, and the AP Rights in Land & Pattadar Pass Book Rules 1989(for short RoR Act& Rules made there under covers all the agricultural lands with an objective to   give a statutory status to the record of rights maintained in the State and enable the farmers to secure loans and other benefits on the basis of record of rights. But this law is silent about the forest title lands under FRA. Now there is a need to synchronize the data of forest land titles in the Record of Rights. There is also a need to bring necessary amendments to the RoR Act 1971 also with effect to this.

It is obligatory on the part of the State Governments under Section 16 of the FRA Amendment Rule 2012 to ensure the post claim support and handholding to holders of Forest Rights in relation to land improvement, land productivity etc.

In conformity and in compliance with the above Rule, the Government of Telangana issued guidelines for implementation of agriculture investment support scheme vide ref in a GO Rt. No 277 (Agriculture and Cooperation (Agri. II) Department dated 21-4-2018, extending credit to RoFR title holders also. As of now there is no  such orders from the Government of Andhra Pradesh extending the support to tribal forest land farmers.

There are some fears among few circles of activists in the country that if credit is made accessible on the basis of forest land titles that would result in to land alienation to non-tribals, money lenders etc.  There is a complete ban on private money lending in the scheduled areas of A.P.

Unlike the tribal land transfer prohibited laws made applicable to the Scheduled Tribes in the country, a special land rights protections were made under Land Transfer Regulations(LTR) to the tribals living in the scheduled areas of Andhra Pradesh. These are constitutional laws made under Vth Schedule to the Constitution of India. As per these Regulations no immovable property situated in the agency tracts and owned by a  tribals shall be liable to be attached and sold in execution of a money decree without a consent from the district collector. No consent shall be granted by the district collector unless he is satisfied that the tribal will retain in his possession after such sale adequate land to support him and his family members and the land shall be only sold to tribals. The word “transfer” includes a sale in execution of a decree so transfer of land in favour of non tribals in realisation of decretal amount is also banned. If no tribal is willing to come forward to purchase the land of the defaulter the  land shall be taken over by the Government and clear the debts of tribals.

Therefore there is an immense need to bring amendments to the existing the FRA to enable the title holders to secure institutional credit and other reliefs. As per the existing AP Scheduled Area Land Transfer Regulations and AP Agency Rules 1924 the lands mortgaged by tribals to the banks cannot be auctioned in favour of non tribals in case if they failed to repay the loan amount to the banks. The Government should stand as a surety to all the loans extended by the banks to tribals. No decree passed by the courts in plain areas

Pending, giving an effect to the amendments to the FRA through a legislative process, it is very essential on the part of the Government of AP also issue an order meanwhile, instructing its Departments, Finance Institutions to grant crop or any other category of loans, grants and financial assistance to the forest title holders with or without accepting the mortgage of their title deeds as the case may be on the merit and viability of the proposed activities intended to be carried out with the proposed loan amount and also make them eligible to receive any compensation for the crop damages etc on par with the other land holders, due to adverse climatic conditions or natural calamities etc.

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