Forest rights group knocks at Centre door, meets leaders

Forest rights group knocks at Centre door, meets leaders

Agency News

New Delhi, Jul 9 : The All-India Front for Forest Rights Struggles (AIFFRS) has expressed its deep concern on the "attempts" of the central government to dilute and violate the Forest Rights Act 2006.

A delegation of the AIFFRS recently met Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda and demanded continuation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, and it's implementation without any dilution.

The delegation also met Congress leaders and former union ministers Jairam Ramesh and Mani Shankar Aiyar, CPM leader Brinda Karat, CPI general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy, and several organisations including the newly founded India Greens Party.

The delegation said it was extremely concerned about the dilution and violation of the Forest Rights Act through a notification on the Compensatory Afforestation Act.

The delegation of the AIFFRS said the preamble of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016, clearly advocates for administration of the funds and to utilise the monies so collected for undertaking artificial regeneration (plantations), assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, forest related infrastructure development, Green India Programme, wildlife protection and other related activities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Xavier Kujur, national convener of AIFFRS, told UNI that the compensatory Act also undermined the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which not only provided primacy to the Gram Sabha, but also sought to ensure that funds were made available to it for handholding support of the stakeholders.

"Section 6 (i) of the Forest Rights Act mentions, "the Gram Sabha shall be the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights or both that may be given to the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers within the local limits of its jurisdiction under this Act by receiving claims, consolidating and verifying them and preparing a map delineating the area of each recommended claim in such manner as may be prescribed for exercise of such rights and the Gram Sabha shall, then, pass a resolution to that effect and thereafter forward a copy of the same to the Sub-Divisional Level Committee’’.

He said the state government shall ensure through its departments especially tribal and social welfare, environment and forest, revenue, rural development, panchayati raj and other departments relevant to upliftment of forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers, that all government schemes including those relating to land improvement, land productivity, basic amenities and other livelihood measures are provided to such claimants and communities whose rights have been recognised and vested under the Act.

He said the Supreme Court order of this March 23 to evict those whose forest claims have been rejected and its subsequent stay is a big stab in the back of Adivasis, as everyone knows that it is the wrong implementation of forest rights in general and community rights in particular that have been the cause of denial of rights.

"There have been a lot of processes and dialogues between civil society organisations and the government to initiate Forest Rights Act, which provides rights to the Adivasis to conserve forests, to use forest based products, for their housing inside the forests and also to cultivate for their basic needs," he added.

Kunjur said that while the Forest Rights Act provided power and rights to the Adivasis, the recent developments seem to deny the rights and power of the Adivasis.

The forest department is only an external force which cannot be given absolute powers to harass the Adivasis or change the character of Indian forests, he added.

"Instead of Implementing the Forest Rights Act, the government today is attempting to take back the rights of the Adivasis on forests. We unanimously oppose such an attempt," he declared.

"As if this was not enough the proposed draft amendments to the Indian Forest Act 1927, far from correcting the injustice done to these communities seeks to put unbridled power in the hands of the forest Department ignoring the work done by forest dwellers and forest dependent communities to protect and manage the forests that they are dependent on."

"We would therefore like to bring upfront the following experiences as a concrete way to demonstrate what the Forest Rights Act should be about and a possible road map to bring to the forefront the twin issues of conservation and livelihoods for sustainable governance of the forests," he said on behalf of the AIFFRS.

Kunjur pointed to the experience of Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan to assert community rights in the forest as a means of not only asserting livelihood rights but also the culture of Adivasis which is intrinsic to forests and the survival of both. "A similar, though different journey, has been traversed by Adivasi Jan Utthan Trust in Bhekadia which is working closely with Fenai Mata Revakhand Jaiv Shristi Mandal a federation of 42 villages in the blocks of Kavant and Naswadi in Chhota Udepur District of Gujarat," he said.

According to him, in South India, Rights-based organisations, which function under the National Adivasi Alliance (NAA), are working with the Adivasi community to ensure implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016 activities to safeguard the livelihood resources for the community and conserve and maintain the bio-diversity in the forest land.

Mr Kunjur pointed out that the report of the meeting on Forestry and Pastoralism at Dehradun held in March 2019 highlighted the need for a different approach to addressing CFR rights of pastoralists. A similar position was reflected for fisherfolk at the meeting on Sundarbans held in December 2017, he added.

Kunjur lamented that the democratic process of having dialogues with Adivasi organisations before declaring any legislation was not conducted before the notification of CAMPA Act or the New Draft Policy on Forests. "The process itself was flawed. The content is in violation of the Indian Constitution," he claimed.

According to him, the demands include: (a) proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act in letter and spirit duly recognising the primacy of the Gram Sabha in the process of initiation of claims and applying proper process for recognition of rights outlined in the Act and the rules; (b) notification to the State Government for reviewing of Forest Rights Claims keeping a. in mind; (c) recognition of the role of the Gram Sabha in the preparation of micro-plans for forest protection and management under Community Forest Rights; (d) ensuring that work done in the village is done by wage labour and not by JCBs so as to ensure that livelihood and survival needs are met in the course of implementation of development works. JCBs also destroy the biodiversity in the village and hence should be avoided; and (e) stop the violation of Forest Rights Act 2006.

The AIFFRS consists of several organisations like the National Adivasi Alliance and the Akhil Bharatiya Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (both national); Rajamoola Adivasigla Vedike, Budakakattu Krishikara Sangha, CORD (All Karnataka), TAAK,HUMANE TRUST, VRDP (Tamil Nadu); JWALA (Kerala); Dharatri (Andhra Pradesh); Disha (Chhattisgarh); Ghumantu Pashupalak Mahasabha (Himachal Pradesh); Eklavya (Gujarat); Seba Jagat (Odisha); and Jharkhand Jungle Bachao Andolan (Jharkhand). (UNI)