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Demand for rights of non-tribal forest dwellers in Indian forests picks up: Memorandum submitted in Odisha

By Our Representative
The demand for recognition of forest rights, as per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, is starting to take a new turn in India’s tribal important tribal regions: Apart from the need to ensure tribals their rights over the forest land, human rights organizations have begun to increasingly insist on the need to recognize the rights of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) by “converting” forest and unsurveyed villages into revenue villages. This came to light in a list of demands put forward by Odisha rights bodies on the world human rights day, December 10. In a memorandum it prepared for submission to government officials also put forward several other demands which pertained both for tribal and non-tribal dwellers.
Asking the Odisha government for “immediate withdrawal of forest offence cases filed against tribals and forest dwellers”, a statement issued by them following a rally in Kantabaji, Bolangir district, said, they want the state government to come up with a “special financial package for Bolangir to meet distress migration”; bring in changes in the Inter State Migration Workman Act 1979 and ensure security of the migrant workers in other states; issue identity card to the construction worker and implement bonded labour prevention Act; and rehabilitate all released bonded labourers of the district.
They also demanded the need to provide work in all season under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), insisting, the scheduled tribe status should be provided to the “Paharia tribe”, who have been scheduled in the neighbouring state Chhatishgarh. Other demands include providing cultivable and homestead land to all landless and homestead less families; regularizing land rights of all families occupying over government land for generations; giving Permanent Record of Rights(RoR) over Bhugara land and Jagiri land; exempt all agricultural loan of the farmers and lunch pension scheme for them; and open agricultural based industries in the tribal regions.
The memorandum was sent to the Odisha chief minister, a copy of which was sent to the Chief Secretary, secretaries of SC&ST development department, revenue department, forest and environment department, panchayati raj. It was handed over to government functionaries of the Bolangir district.
The demands were put forward on the occasion of World Human Rights Day by noted rights body Zindabad Sangathan and Sramik Adhikar Manch of Bolangir, affiliated to the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD). They jointly organized a protest rally December 10 at Kantnaji, in which hundreds of tribals and forest dwellers from nearby blocks, i.e Kantabanji, Muribahal, Turekela, Khaprakhol, Belpada, Bongomunda, Titilagarh and Patnagarh joined in.
The protest rally began at the Government Bus Stand, Kantabaji, and moved around the town and marched towards the tehsil office. In the procession, the participants of rally held placards in their hands with their demands. A public meeting was organized before the tehsil office. Trilochan Punji, the leader of the joint endeavour, presided over the meeting. He shared objective of the programme sharing the various issues of Bolangir district on the human rights day.
Joining the Protest Rally as chief guest speaker, Prafulla Samantara, the noted activist and president of Loksakti Abhijan addressed the participants of the protest Rally. In his key note address he said, “The Constitution of India has provided rights to the people to live a life with dignity but the government of Odisha has failed to ensure it even in the 67 years of independence in the Bolangir district resulting distress migration of the people to other regions in search of basic livelihood needs.” He demanded a special financial package from the Government of Odisha to meet this.
Addressing the gathering, Lingaraj Azad, advisor of the Niyamgiri Surakhya Samittee(NSS) said, “We have to critically analyze the system of governance that we have. This system of governance has made our representatives and our employees as the owner. They have turned as govt. which is not a good sign for our democracy and we have to think for it.” Others who addressed the rally were Arun Mishra, representative of the Samajwadi Party, Bishnu Prashad Sharma, advocate, and Manohar Chauhan, member of the CSD.

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