India: Goan Kumeri cultivators exempted from provisions of Forest Conservation Act

PANAJI: The long-pending and vexed issue of Kumeri cultivators in Goa
may finally be resolved. The state government has decided to recommend
to the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests that Goan Kumeri
cultivators be exempted from the provisions of the Forest Conservation
Act. If this is done, then the land that is being cultivated by the
cumeris will be officially handed over to them by issuing conversion
sanads. Official sources said that while this has been agreed to in
principle by the government, a cabinet note is being prepared so that
cabinet approval may be obtained before referring the Kumeri cases to
the centre for exemption.

There are over 2500 Kumeri cases all over
Goa mostly in the rural talukas of Quepem, Sanguem, Canacona, Pernem,
Sattari and Ponda. Originally forest dwellers, land was given to the
Kumeri cultivators for cultivating cashew and other crop before
liberation. Some were given sanads before 1980, when the Forest
Conservation Act came into force. After that, no conversion sanads
could be issued as the land was protected by the Forest Conservation
Act although the land was already in the possession of the
cultivators. The Kumeri cultivators have long been demanding rights
over the land they have been cultivating since pre-liberation days.
The government has also received representations from various quarters
especially the associations of the scheduled caste and scheduled
tribes in Goa. The government will now urge the centre that the Kumeri
lands be exempted from the Forest Conservation Act 1980 so that sanads
can be issued to them. Official sources said the matter was referred
to the advocate general’s office. The advocate general has stated that
a specific law was passed by the Goa government to regularise such
cases. In the absence of any challenge, this law should be valid
unless it is directly contradictory to specific provisions of the
Forest Conservation Act. The advocate general has therefore advised
that the cases be referred to him so that he can examine them before
they are referred to the centre. The associations of the scheduled
castes and scheduled tribes in Goa have also been demanding that the
Kumeri cases could be covered under the recent central government
enactment giving rights to tribals in forest areas. But this needs to
be examined by the Revenue Department, sources said. Meanwhile, the
survey work involving identification and demarcation of plots of
Kumeri cultivators in Goa has already been outsourced to a private
party and work is already underway, sources said.

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