By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI, Aug 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An indigenous man who lived in a tree house for two years after his home was damaged in a south Indian forest, has been given a plot of land, an official said, in a case that highlights the slow progress in recognising the rights of forest dwellers.
Gajja, who belongs to a tribal community in the southern state of Karnataka, has lived on a platform he built on a mango tree in the forest to keep safe from elephants.
This week, following a local newspaper report about his plight, officials gave him a plot of land.
"He had already been conferred with forest rights, but he was unaware of the fact, and had continued to live on the tree," said D. Randeep, the deputy commissioner in Mysuru city.
"We have now allocated some land near that tree, so he can build a hut. If he is willing to live outside the forest, we can give him compensation and allot him a proper home," he said.
Gajja, who gathers honey and other forest products, is among millions of people who depend on forests for a living.
More than a fifth of India's 1.3 billion people were expected to benefit from the 2006 Forest Rights Act covering vast areas of forest land roughly the size of Germany.
The law gives indigenous people and forest dwellers rights to manage and govern their traditional forests and resources, individually and as a community.
But states have been slow to confer these rights, and conflicts between states and indigenous communities have risen as demand for land for industrial use increases in the fast growing economy.
Local news reports said Gajja, who only uses his first name, had been evicted and his home knocked down by forest officials.
Randeep denied Gajja had been evicted.
"He could not rebuild his home, so he chose to live on the tree," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"There are other tribal families in the area who were evicted from the forest some years ago. We are talking to forest officials about their compensation and forest rights," he said.
India is estimated to have a shortage of about 30 million homes in rural areas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a 2022 target of "Housing for All".
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)