Gujarat: GPS technology and an NGO have empowered the tribals in the Indian state of Gujarat to get their land rights. Tribals are no longer treated as encroachers, and so are entitled to all government schemes.
Earlier government takeover of forests had converted forest dwellers into encroachers. The Forest Rights Act 2006 provided for land titles to be given to tribal plots in cultivation in December 2005. However, the tribals did not get their lands back. ARCH (Action Research in Community Health and Development) and other NGOs appealed to the High Courct which decreed a review of claims, allowing evidences such as case records, official receipts and satellite images from Google Earth as well as the national remote Sensing Agency to establish ownership. Gram sabhas certified which plots were cultivated by individual families in 2005, and forwarded the documents to the state government. But most of the claims were fully or partly rejected. Then ARCH came up with the idea of using GPS hand-held devices. Holding a GPS device, a tribal simply walked around his plot and pressed some buttons. The device automatically sketched a map of his farm, with the right latitude and longitude and exact area. The maps were then verified by the village body. All individual maps were then superimposed on a satellite image of the village dating from 2005. This produced a detailed map showing the exact size and ownership of every plot. Land disputes arose if two villagers walked over the same area, and disputes were settled by the gram sabha before certification. Any encroachment on forest land after 2005 showed up clearly after superimposing today”s maps on the 2005 satellite image. This took take of the Forest Department”s fears. When tribals re-filed claims using these maps and additional evidence such as receipts, government acceptance of claims went up to 61 out of 63 in one village, and 96 out of 112 in another. The project has so far covered 150 tribal villages.