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Most of forest land titles given in Odisha are "not verified on the ground", may lead to serious conflicts in future

By Our Representative
Thousands of adivasis and forest dwellers from across Odisha, mostly from tribal regions, marched in a protest rally on September 28 under the banner of Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, at Lower PMG, Bhubaneswar, raising concern over “anti-tribal” and “anti-forest dweller” laws like Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 (commonly known as CAMPA) and Draft National Forest Policies 2018.
Demanding that they be repealed, Gopinath Majhi, state CSD convener said, “Such policies are the organized conspiracy of the Central government to take away forest rights of the forest dwellers, recognized under historic Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006”., adding, “It is regretted that even after 10 years of FRA implementation in the state, community rights recognition has been very poor due to obstacles and challenges created by the State Forest Department.”
Prafulla Samantara, winner of the Green Nobel prize, addressing the rally, lambasted the Government of Odisha for its “anti-tribal” policies, saying, “While the state government claims to be No 1 in issuing highest individual titles in the country, the reality is that most of these titles are not verified on the ground, which may lead to serious conflicts in future.”
He called upon the state government “to immediately correct them in the presence of members of Gram Sabhas by pursing ground verification.”
Attacking the Modi government, Pradeep Sahu, senior CSD member, said, “All the tribals and forest dwellers of the country are watching the anti-tribal policy of the Central government and they will definitely teach a lesson to it in the next general elections, to be held in 2019.”
The protest rally was followed by a public meeting at Lower PMG presided by Narendra Mohanty, core body members of CSD. Among those who addressed the public meeting included Anna Kujjur, Suresh Panigrahi, Karmi Besra, Balraju Gemel, Trilochan Punji, Radhakanta Sethi, Akhya Pani, Sala Marndi, Lochan Bariha, Bijaya Upaddhyay, Pradipta Nayak, Kamal Saimajhi, Sandeep Pattnayak, Bijay Swain, Biranchi Bariha and others.
At the end of the programme, a of delegation from CSD met and submitted memorandum to the Odisha governor and the chief secretary, demanding that the “anti-environment and anti-people” Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016” should be repealed, as it seeks to reverse the forest rights recognised under FRA, 2006.
The memorandum said, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) should withdraw the guidelines (F.No.11-423/2011- FC, of 8 Nov. 2017) for creating “land banks” from revenue and degraded forest land to raise compensatory afforestation, adding, the state government should refrain from bypassing the “authority” of gram sabhas in FRA.
The memorandum further sought withdrawal of “anti-conservation and anti-tribal” draft National Forest Policy, 2018, proposed by MoEFCC, pointing out, “It is anti-FRA and anti-environment, it would destroy India’s forests, which would be handed over to private companies for management.”
Seeking the withdrawal of March 28, 2017 order of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the memorandum alleged, it has been “illegally issued to subvert FRA in the tiger habitat, forcing eviction of adivasis from their ancestral land.”
Asking the governemnt to “stop diversion of rich biodiversity areas for development projects such as mines, industry, dams, etc to avoid destruction of wildlife habitats and increase human-animal conflicts:, the memorandum said, strict penal action should be taken against officials creating “illegal obstruction in exercise of forest dwellers' rights over minor forest produce (MFP).”
Other demands included dissolution of joint forest management committees, mandatory approval of gram sabha for any forestry activities within community forest resource areas of gram sabhas, recognition of individual forest rights of of other traditional forest dwellers (OTFDs), and so on.

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