Forest villages in India

Unsurveyed Villages

In India, census is undertaken every 10 years to collect demographic, social, cultural and economic data.  Apart from this, it is also responsible for enumerating the number of villages along with their respective population. According to Census, an area is treated as a village when it generally follows the limits of a revenue village, and is recognized by the normal district administration. Further, a revenue village is defined as an area which has a definite surveyed boundary, and each revenue village is treated as a separate administrative unit with a separate village account.

As per Census, there may also be some un-surveyed villages within forests which have not been accounted for. In these villages, the locally recognized boundaries of each habitation area is followed within a larger unit of say the forest range officer’s jurisdiction.  These un-surveyed forest villages do not reflect in the list of villages covered in most of the government schemes as many departments use census list for administrative purposes.  Communities have realized this and have been demanding to convert the forest villages to revenue villages.

This particular issue has been addressed in the Forest Rights Act of 2008, which mandates the conversion of all forest villages into revenue villages, and provide recognition of the forest rights Indigenous and other traditional forest-dwelling communities. With this intension, the state governments were advised to convert all erstwhile forest villages, unrecorded settlements and old habitations into revenue villages with a sense of urgency in a time bound manner. It was also clarified that the conversion would include the actual land-use of the village in its entirety, including lands required for current or future community uses, like, schools, health facilities, public spaces, etc.

In 2016, the former Tribal Affairs Minister, Jual Oram, during a Question Hour session in the Lok Sabha  said that there are 4,526 forest villages in the country which housed approx. 22.06 lakh people. Out of the total 22, 06,011 population living in 4,526 forest villages across the country, 13, 32, 265 belong to Scheduled Tribes (ST).

Number Villages reported by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

Currently, there is no defined mechanism to collect demographic, socio-economic profile of forest villages.  As seen in the table, the number of villages reported by Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change Minister’s reply in the Lok Sabha as shown below for the year 2016 and 2019 would fail to adhere to a rudimentary data check. The number of forest villages for a few of the states not reported in 2016; however, it is reported in the year 2019 and vice-versa. The upcoming census should enumerate forest village as a separate category.

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