Tuesday, September 22, 2015

No tribal representation in order forming committees for eco-sensitive zone in South Gujarat, 30,000 protest

Second South Gujarat rally against Central order "ignoring" tribals
By Our Representative
In a major development, the Government of India’s proposed notification, calling for declaring the seven kiloemtre area around South Gujarat’s one of the most well-preserved Shoolpaneshwar sanctuary as eco-sensitive has zone, has ignored participation of local tribal representatives in the proposed master plan to “develop” the region.
The sanctuary is situated off the controversial Narmada dam, and houses some 121 tribal villages.
While the notification wants the master plan to be implemented for developing eco-tourism activities and “non-polluting” small scale industries the eco-sensitive zone, it is widely believed, the sanctuary is the next target for extension of tourism activities off Narmada dam around the 182-metre tall statue of the Sardar Patel under construction in the midst of Narmada river.
The notification says, the master plan would be declared after ”consultation with all the concerned departments”, such as environment, forests, urban development, tourism, municipality, revenue, agriculture, Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), irrigation and public works department of the Gujarat government.
Published in Hindi and English – with no Gujarati copy made available – the notification, dated July 30, given to the tribal villages last week, also talks of having a seven-person monitoring committee for ensuring proper implementation of the master plan. However, here also, it ignores any representative from the tribal dominated area’s 121 tribal villages, which it seeks to identify as part of eco-sensitive zone.
The seven-person monitoring committee would be largely official, or with two “independent” members chosen by the government. There is, however, no mention of giving representation to elected members from the tribal region, let alone representatives of the villages which would form part of the eco-sensitive zone.
Veteran tribal leader Chhotubhai Vasava with others on the rostrum
The committee would iclude the district collector, Narmada; a senior town planner of the area; the regional officer of the GPCB; a representative of the department of forests and environment, Gujarat government; and the deputy conservator of forests, in charge of Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, Narmada district.
Then there would be two “independent” members – a non-government organization representative, who would be chosen by the government; and an expert in the area ecology and environment, again chosen by the Gujarat government – and both would be chosen for a period of one year.
With notification in hand, there is a further flareup of tribals of South Gujarat, who say the notification is an “infringement” of their rights. Two well-established organizations, Adivasi Mahasabha and Adivasi Ekta Parishad, held out one the biggest rallies at Dediapada town, off Shoolpaneshwar on September 21, against the proposal for eco-sensitive zone.
Speaking at the 30,000-strong rally, which took place following a 6,000-strong rally a few days back, veteran tribal leader Chhotubhai Vasava said, declaring the area as eco-sensitive zone is “the first step” towards evicting the tribals from the region.
According to him, there is “no talk about tribals’ forest rights, as stipulated in the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, nor is there any talk about community rights of the forests, in the notification.”
“There has not been any consultation with the gram sabhas either, as required by the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, a law enacted by the Government of India to cover the scheduled areas to ensure consultation of the tribals before triggering any developmental project”, he pointed out.

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