Taking strong exception to the Government of India’s alleged efforts to “undermine” Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2016, Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), the apex body of tens of people’s movements fighting for land rights, has said that recent move to amend some of FRA’s “strong provisions” has emboldened Indian states to stop implementing it altogether.
In a representation to Jual Oram, Minister of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, a BAA delegation complained that all that his ministry, in the meanwhile, is doing to “implement” the FRA “are routine workshops, seminars, video conferencing, missives and routine letters to the state and union territory governments, etc.”
A memorandum was handed over to the minister by a group of Left-wing politicians and several civil rights organizations led by CPM leader Hannan Mullah, following a well-attended rally of tribals and other forest dwellers in Delhi to mark a decade of FRA.
Those who were part of the delegation which met the minister included Ashok Chowdhury and Roma of the All-India Union of Forest Working People; Sunit Chopra of the Akhil Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union; Anil Chaudhary of Insaf; Prem Singh of the All India Kisan Maha Sabha; and Dr. Sunilam, Vimal Bhai and Madhuresh Kumar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements.
Giving instances how FRA is being “undermined”, the memorandum said, in Jharkhand, the BJP government went “so far as to launched a brazen attack on protection given to the tribal land, individual as well as community, by amending Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act.”
The memorandum said, while this “created fissures between the tribals and non-tribals leading to social unrest”, when tribals protested againt the government move, seven tribals were killed in police firing in Hazaribagh, Ramgarh and Khunti districts of Jharkhand between August and October 2016.
“Across the country”, the memorandum said, “Forest dwelling community continue to face eviction from forests, be it Gujars in Rajaji National Park, or tribals/other communities from Kaziranga National Park, or those form different reserved forest areas of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.”
“There is a systematic attempt being made at nullifying the rights of the gram sabha in Himachal Pradesh and Chattisgarh”, the memorandum said, adding, in these two states governments have been issuing “guidelines in complete violation of the Act and your Ministry has remained mute witness to that.”
Then, said the memorandum, there is “threat of displacement” looming large over forest dwelling communities be it in the “submergence zones of dams on Narmada river in Central India” and “Polavaram dam in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Orissa.”
Asking the Government of India to constitute a national review and monitoring committee to prepare a white paper based on nationwide review of implementation of FRA, the memorandum said, the government must immediately undertake “investigation into massive rejections in some states, which are as high as 80% of the claims.”
Asking the minister to “halt all diversion of forestland for non-forest purposes without settling the rights of the communities as per the provisions of the FRA”, the memorandum said, the government should also stop “any evictions from the forests, reserve areas, national parks, buffer zones etc. without settling the claims under FRA.”