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Delhi people's organizations' meet protests proposed changes in India's forest and environmental laws

By Our Representative
A broad spectrum of civil society and people’s organizations under the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA) has demanded from the Government of India to work for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 in its letter and spirit, even as ensuring that collective rights of tribal communities are upheld.
Simultaneously asking the government to “stay away from making any changes to the Act”, a BAA statement issued after a mass demonstration in Delhi insisted on the need to strengthen India’s environmental laws by withdrawing Environment Law (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
A BAA communiqué issued after the meeting said, “Over 500 people associated with different social movements, democratic struggles and trade unions from different states of the country gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on the historic day of enactment of FRA in 2006.”
Following the meeting, a delegation from BAA met Minister of Tribal Affairs Jual Oram, who “assured” the protesters that he would “raise” these issues in Parliament.
Calling the FRA 2006 “a landmark in the history of indigenous people in this country whose rights have time and again been neglected by the state”, the BAA said, “The FRA was enacted to correct this historic injustice meted to our people and restore their rights over their forests, land and water.”
“The Act ensures individual tenure rights over cultivable land and more importantly collective ownership rights over all non-timber forest products (NTFP) and forest-based resources to the Gram Sabhas and those duly elected by the community members”, BAA added.
“However”, it alleged, the government has “neglected in effectively implementing the progressive Act meant to bring about a structural change in forest governance.”
Referring to the tenth ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Nairobi, Kenya (15-18 December). BAA said, “WTO has repeatedly pushed forward the agenda of the developed nations and has sidelined the real concerns of developing nations like India.”
Addressing the meet, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said that BAA has been formed to collectively “denounce the proposal of change of law in FRA.” She blamed the government for not implementing them even after the gram sabha passed a resolution for it.” She added, “Though the negotiations would have started in Nairobi, we hope the government does not proceed to sell off our lands there.”
Roma, General Secretary, All-India Union of Forest Working People, said the reason for the meeting is “to remind the government that the people will oppose the governmental move to sell of our lands to the corporates. The government thinks that we will be content with the declaration of FRA, but we will not end our struggle until it is properly implemented.”
Dr Sunilam of the Kisaan Sangharsh Samiti blamed the lack of political will in government for the non-implementation of FRA till date. Referring to the struggle in Chindwara, Madhya Pradeshagainst the Adani Group’s control over tribal land, he said, “The government assumes that they can stop us from democratic struggles by imposing 144.”
Ashok Chowdhary of the All-India Union of Forest Working People said, “Water, food and land are some of our main issues, and everything has to be addressed together.” He added, “Siding with corporates will only ruin our country.”

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