But the SDLCs simply ignored the work done by the FRCs and were sitting on these claims. Towards the end of 2009, we came to know that the State Government was also considering use of Satellite Imagery for this purpose. This was sort of a wake-up call for us because we knew next to nothing about GPS and how accurate these surveys are in determining the exact positions of the plots. Hence, we together with FRC members decided to carry out such surveys on our own. The tribals of these villages immediately understood its significance and enthusiastically took up this work. They carried out GPS surveys of all the claimed lands in these villages on their own (with the help of GPS instruments provided by us). We then super-imposed these plots on the Satellite Imageries of 2005 and 2009 (obtained from National Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad and downloaded from GoogleEarth) and printed maps (with imageries) showing the position of each claimed plot on these imageries. These maps clearly show beyond any doubt that almost all the lands are cultivated by the tribals from before 2005 (the cut-off year under the Act) and their claims are genuine. Maps of 25 villages showing position of about 5500 plots in Dediapada taluka have been prepared. Most importantly, the costs of purchasing imageries and taking printouts etc., have all been borne by the tribals themselves.
The Forest Rights Committees of these villages officially submitted these maps as supplementary evidence during the process of Review. Most of the officers (including Forest Officers) were stunned by the high quality of these maps and simply cannot believe that the tribals themselves have carried out GPS surveys of these lands. These maps have been examined during the Review process by the SDLC in about 5 villages, where led to approval of more than 90 percent of the claims. At the suggestion of the Reviewing officer, we started submitting individual maps too, which can be placed in the claim files of each claimant.
Meanwhile, groups working in other districts like Narmada, Dangs, Tapi, Surat, Valsad, Vadodara, etc., also became interested in this work and started seeking our help in this regard. More importantly, the tribals themselves have shown tremendous interest and enthusiasm for this work. And after the High Court judgment, the demand for this work has grown tremendously. We had to buy 10 more GPS instruments to meet this growing demand. About 20000 plots from more than 200 villages have been surveyed and mapped so far. And we expect to cover many more villages in near future after the end of the rainy days. In these villages too, the printing and others costs are borne by the tribals themselves.
Our friend, Barun Mitra (of Liberty Institute, Delhi) has been tremendously interested in this work, and has provided crucial help. He has taken the initiative to develop a web-based program to involve other groups to take up similar work. We have with his help been able to develop a website (www.fra.righttoproperty.org) to display the results of these surveys and to help us in preparing various reports, which need to be submitted to the authorities.