The Madhya Pradesh government on Monday began organising gram sabhas in villages to consider afresh rejected claims of Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers to forest land rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. As the Supreme Court hearing on July 24 to receive affidavits from States with regard to the status of pending cases gets closer, Additional Chief Secretary Panchayat and Rural Development Gauri Singh directed District Collectors to hold gram sabhas from July 15-20 wherever claims were rejected. As on June 30, out of 6,26,511 claims to forest rights in the State, 3,60,181 (57.49%) had been rejected, and are now being reviewed. Period tentative Stating that the one-week period for holding the sabhas was tentative and the review process could take longer, Rakesh Singh, Commissioner, Directorate of Tribal Area Development and Planning, said,“A State-level monitoring committee on February 27 had decided to review the rejected claims pending with district level committees at the village level, which is the basic unit facilitating claims to forest rights.”In several cases, he added, it was found that due opportunity to produce evidence to stake claim was not given to claimants, no reasons were stated for the rejection of claims, and claimants lacked awareness about the application procedure. “Most tribals and forest-dwelling people are vulnerable and they need to be guided into claiming their rights. During gram sabhas, we will review whether officials followed rules in rejecting claims, and the sites in question need to be revisited,” he said. To streamline the process and deal with the bulk of claims, the State has launched an online application system, Van Mitra, in the Hoshangabad district on a pilot basis, said Rishi Garg, Additional Commissioner, Tribal Welfare Department.Transparent system“Applicants can upload their documents on the portal or approach Gram Rozgar Sahayak present in each gram panchayat to help them with it. It’s a transparent system wherein applicants can check the status of their claim at every stage and, in case of its rejection, know the reason,” said Mr. Singh. On February 28, the Supreme Court had stayed its controversial February 13 order that lakhs of those whose claims were rejected be evicted from forests. It acknowledged the need to delve into whether due process was followed by State governments before claims were rejected. The court had asked States to respond to allegations, including that claims were rejected on incomplete information, reasons for rejection were not stated to claimants, and State-level monitoring committees met irregularly. Madhya Pradesh has 24 tribal districts, the most in the country, and the largest forest cover of 77,414 sq. km., according to the India State of Forest Report, 2017. In the Bhopal division, 56,276 of 72,101 claims, and in the Indore division, 64,474 of 1,58,584 have been rejected.Contentious issueStaking claim to forests rights and arbitrary evictions by foresters has been a contentious issue in the State. On July 9, during an eviction drive by the Forest Department in the Burhanpur district, foresters allegedly fired pellets against tribals, injuring four of them. Chief Minister Kamal Nath on Saturday ordered an investigation into the incident after several political leaders demanded action against those responsible.