The Govt. of India & Assam must End Impunity: Ensure rights of scheduled tribes, forest, park dwellers and safeguard environment-wildlife with an objective & holistic conservation policy
Serious investigations, related to gross hand rights Violations I the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) have come to light: 57 cases of extra-judicial killings over the last three years, as against 106 since 1996 alone The recent deaths include 27 in 2014, 23 in 2015 and 7 in 2016. In the killings, not a single forest staffer has list his/her life in "encounters" since 1985.
This has been brought out recently by the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), an apex body of a large number of people's organisations across India. The NAPM in details sent to Sabrangindia , has alleged that these facts raise “some crucial questions about the official claims that all the killings are of poachers in cross-fire.”
The NAPM has also pointed out that local activists protesting this repression, villagers and activists like Akhil Gogoi, associated with the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) are sought to be suppressed by governments and the administration, in and around Kaziranga.
Recently , The issue once again came to spotlight with the Govts ban on BBCs documentary Killing for Conservation which has exposed the shoot-at-sight policy of KNP and the grim situation of the locals being threatened, harassed, tortured and even killed by the Forest Dept, using conservation a shield. The documentary has graphically portrayed the serious issues faced by communities living at the periphery of KNP by the Forest Dept. in the name of conservation.
The Impunity which shields government officials and the administration is stark.
The repression on the KNPs forest dwellers as well as in its arbitrary ban on BBCs film, threat of blacklisting the media group and revoking its filming permission across the country!
Pointing that the killings are being carried out in what is being termed as ‘good faith’, citing Section 197 of CrPC, NAPM adds, this is the direct result of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which is applicable in the North-Eastern states, allowing “blanket immunity” to “shield for fake encounters, rapes and torture” of scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers of Kaziranga.
NAPM's strong reaction comes amidst a sharp upturn in the struggle against the allegedly repressive attitude of the forest department of Assam and “silence” of the Government of India in the garb of conservation.
Activists like Pranab Doley, Soneswer Narah and others of the Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha Akhil Gogoi, associated with the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and face “continuous threats, trumped-up charges, hand-cuffing and arrests”, because they have been highlighting the “immunity” of the forest department in dealing with the local people.
The forest departments own Report of 2014, while hundreds of alleged poachers have been shot dead in encounters over the years, not a single forest staffer has been killed in an encounter between 1985 and June, 2014.
This record over 3 decades raises some crucial questions about the official claims that all the killings are of poachers in cross-fire!
The NAPM states that " there is enough reason to suspect periodic abuse of the Order dt. 14/7/2010 issued by the Govt. of Assam according legal immunity to all the forest guards of Kaziranga using Firearms, in addition to the existing immunity from judicial proceedings they enjoy for actions done in good faith under Sec 197 of CrPC. India has been witnessing the abuse of draconian legislations like AFPSA for decades in Kashmir, Manipur and other North-East states, where legal immunity is used a shield for fake encounters, rapes and torture." Besides, they add, " We fear for the well-being of the scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers of Kaziranga in the light of such provisions, granting blanket immunity to forest authorities."
Across the country, whether in Niyamgiri, Narmada, Nilgiris or elsewhere scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers are always forcefully made to pay the price for development, many times with their livelihood (displacement) and at times even with their life.
Hence, People’s movements are compelled to ask, if "the Governments of Assam and India, if what the State is doing at KNP is indeed Conservation or Militarization."
The NAPM endorses the key demands of the local people including immediate review of the 33 Highlands Project in the KNP core zone, disclosure of the Environment and Forest Clearance, Environment Impact Assessment Report and allied documents in relation to the Highlands Project within KNP, implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 as well as the LARR Act, 2013; complete reservation to the inhabitants of KNP and its periphery and reservation for ST(P), OBC, MOBC as per government guidelines; regularization of all the casual employees in KNP, immediate release of compensation for loss of life or property during the 2016 floods, a loan waiver for affected farmers, permanent jobs to family members of victims who have lost their life to wild animal attack or innocent victims who have suffered at the hands
The NAPM had also demanded the withdrawal of false cases, end to all forms of threat, arbitrary arrests and a dialogue with the peoples organizations in the area to address the concerns of scheduled tribes, forest ad park dwellers, and involve them in the conservation efforts.
The Govt. must ensure that there are no evictions, without lawful rehabilitation. We also call upon the State Govt. to institute an independent inquiry into all the killings by forest guards and adequate compensation for survivors / family members of state violence. Govt. of India must revoke its ban on BBCs documentary and abstain from issuing any form of threat to media or other public organization that report the ground realities.