Odisha forms high-level panel for tribals land rights

Bhubaneswar: As part of steps to fulfil promises made to naxal-selected mediators to resolve the hostage crisis in February, state government has set up a high-level committee to recommend measures for effective and expeditious restoration of land rights of tribals.

As per a notification issued on Tuesday night, a six-member committee headed by chief administrator of KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) would submit its recommendations to the government within six months, Revenue and Disaster management minister S N Patro said.

Other members of the committee are the member, Board of Revenue, secretaries of revenue and disaster management and ST & SC development departments, revenue divisional commissioners (RDCs) of southern and northern divisions.

The Secretary, Board of Revenue, would be its member secretary, the notification said.

After holding Malkangiri District Collector R Vineel Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi hostages, the Maoists in February had demanded an early issuance of land records for tribals in Koraput and Malkangiri districts.

The rebels alleged that many non-tribals illegally possessed land of tribals which was also admitted by the state government during the negotiation with mediators.

Stating that the state government had taken several pro-active measures for protecting the land rights of tribals in scheduled areas, the minister claimed that some amount of tribal land had been freed from the possession of non-tribals.

However, Patro pointed out that the government could not return land to original tribal owners as some of the land holders had taken the matter to the court of law. "We have to wait till the court orders," he said.

On steps taken by the state government, Patro said it had appointed special officers to resolve dispute over tribal lands in schedule areas. "The government has also offered to engage good lawyers on demand by tribals to facilitate the prices."

Two days ago at a public meeting at Bandhugaon area in Koraput district, naxal-selected mediators Prof G Hargopal and Dandapani Mohanty had accused the state government of delay in constituting high level committee to resolve land dispute between tribals and non-tribals.

"Though six weeks have already passed, the state government had not set up the high-level committee as promised to us during negotiation in February," Prof Hargopal had told the gathering at Bandhugaon.