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Ignoring land rights, forest dept 'harassing' tribal dwellers in the name of afforestation

Counterview Desk 

The civil rights group Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) has regretted that despite the promises of the Chief Minister, deprivation of forest rights of Adivasis-Moolvasis of Jharkhand and the intimidation of the Forest Department continues unabated in the state. 
In a statement, JJM said, "It is sad to note that on one hand, Adivasis-Moolvasis are being alienated from their forest rights, while on the other hand, they are also being troubled constantly at the hands of the forest department."
Giving specific instances of how this is happening, JJM said, the state government should "stop the displacement of people from the Adivasis-Moolvasis land under the garb of afforestation", adding, not only should pending forest rights claims be cleared, the cases lodged against innocent persons by the Forest Department should be urgently withdrawn.

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JMM and Congress in their election manifestoes had ensured the appropriate implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Additionally, the election manifesto also guaranteed the forest lease and comprehensive rights over the forests. After the current government came into power, there have been multiple announcements with respect to the same; however, the status of its implementation at the ground level is paradoxical.
According to the Schedules Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, communities that are dependent on the forest have numerous rights. One of these rights provides that the forest dwellers who have been doing farming for livelihood can qualify as the claimant for ownership of that land (4 hectares).
Since the implementation of this Act in 2008, the Forest Department has been making countless efforts to alienate these rights from them. In the initial days, there were various instances of cases lodged against Adivasis and Moolvasis along with instance of displacement under the garb of afforestation initiatives. It is sad to note that on one hand, Adivasis-Moolvasis are being alienated from their forest rights, while on the other hand, they are also being troubled constantly at the hands of the forest department.
Recently two of such instances came up. In Gadgoma village in Bariyatu block located in the Latehar district, 25 traditional forest dwellers after completing the due legal process along with the necessary records, submitted the application for individual forest leases and community forest rights at the (Sub-divisional level) Forest Rights Committee. However, they have not received neither individual leases nor community forest rights.
On 7th December 2021, a few representatives from the Forest Department arrived at Gadgoma with the intention for afforestation for which the application for the forest lease had been made. On protesting against this, the people were intimidated by the threat of cases being lodged against them. In 2022, on the orders of the forest department, pits began to be dug. On 11th February 2022, a few women from the village filled the pits back with mud. On the same evening, the police arrested 2 young men- Dinesh Rana s/o Pravesh Rana and Ranjan Rana s/o America Rana. When the villagers went for police picketing at Bariyatu, the police mishandled them. Charges of filling the mud pit/ditch and obstructing government work have been filed against the two men and their fathers. The two men have also been sent to jail. At the FIR filed by the forest department, the fathers of the two men have been declared as absconding despite their presence at the police station. The two men stayed in the jail for a month and their fathers live in constant fear of incarceration.
Section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act 2006 has clearly specified that “(5) Save as otherwise provided, no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.” From the above instances, it is clear that the forest department is in violation of the law.
These similar situations prevail in the Beyang village of the Manika block. 40 other traditional forest dwellers had made applications for individual leases in 2018 and for community forest rights in 2021. However, they have not received them yet.
In December 2021, afforestation initiatives began in the above said land. On 4th January 2022, villagers submitted a written complaint to the Forest Divisional Officer at Latehar that the afforestation had begun without the consent of the Gram Sabha. They requested not to proceed with the plantation on their traditional land. As they received no response from the office, the villagers visited the DFO. However, they only got reassurances while the work continued in their villages.
At last, a claimant from the Schedule Caste community, Kundan K. Bhuiya made an application for an FIR against the Forest Divisional Officer, other forest department officers and a few bullies in the village under The Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and Section 166 of the Indian Penal Code. The station in charge refused to file an FIR. On 20th January 2022, the same was sent to the police station via registered post and with the help of the local MLA, the application was accepted on 23rd January 2022. Complaints regarding the same were also made to the police superintendent, but the FIR was never registered.
Similar instances have occurred at Shanti village in Baalumath block at Latehar district, Koyanjara and Chatakpur in Gumla, Bankheta and Sopahi in Ramna block of Garhwa district, Bishunia in Dhurki block, Ramar in Bhandaria block, Mahugain etc. These are only a handful of examples that depicts the situation of Adivasis-Moolvasis who are dependent on the forest and the working of the Forest Rights Act. Claims for lakhs of individual forest rights and thousands of acres of community forest land are pending. There is a huge gap between the promises of the Chief Minister and the proceedings of the Forest Department.
Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha has the following demands from the State Government:
  • Stop the displacement of people from the Adivasis-Moolvasis land under the garb of afforestation
  • Urgent addressal of the pending forest rights claims and issuing the Forest Rights Claim
  • Withdrawal of the cases lodged against innocent persons by the Forest Department. Legal actions to be taken against the officials of the Forest Department for the violation of the forest and human rights of Adivasis-Moolvasis
  • Stop the illegal interference of the forest department officials in the process of implementation of the forest rights

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