Bhumi Adhikar Andolan calls for a National Consultation on Forest Rights Movements to take the movement forward
Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, a platform working for the land rights of communities, has called for a “National Consultation: Land and Forest Rights Movements and the Way Forward” on July 1, Monday.
Various organisations such as Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch], Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, All India Union of Forest Working People, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Delhi Solidarity Group will be a part of the consultation.
February 2019 was a grim month for India’s forest dwelling communities. The Supreme Court of India, hearing a petition filed by wildlife conservationists and former forest department officials, directed state governments to evict “encroachers” or the “illegal forest dwellers”. The court room seemed conspicuous by the absence of the defenders, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), in the case.
The order sent shockwaves across the country’s forests, home to eight percent of the population. It met with stiff resistance. It was called “unconstitutional” by several quarters, especially those which had been struggling for forest rights for decades. The order was criticised for “violating” schedules V, VI and IX of the Constitution and also for turning established jurisprudence on its head.
A week later, the order was temporarily stayed after the Central government was compelled to move the same bench for review due to pressure created by several quarters and rights groups. Significantly, the case was heard for several years on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by wildlife conservancy groups which emanated from a case on the validity of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA, 2006). The FRA, 13 years ago, for the first time, recognised the individual and community rights of the forest dwellers over the forest land. It recognised the “historical injustice” done to these communities and helped remove the stigma of “encroachers”, a term pregnant with colonial prejudice and popularised in the last few centuries by the English mainstream media favouring elite notions of conservation.
Despite the enactment of the FRA in 2006, most states have failed to implement it in its true spirit. Since the enactment, 4.22 million claims have been filed. While the total forest land under occupation prior to 2005 was 112,000 sq km., only 54,591.07 sq. km. has been recognised. The petitioners targeted the population whose claims have been rejected. States like Maharashtra which have stood out in terms of recognizing Community Forest Rights (CFRs), have also, only achieved about 15 percent of their full potential in terms of implementation of FRA. The Act has seen various dilutions, contradictory policies and litigations challenging the constitutional validity of FRA through the ten years of the Act being in force. The forest bureaucracy on the one hand and the non-state actors on the other, along with the complicity of the state has not only posed a challenge to the implementation of the act, but this dynamic has also perpetrated immense amount of violence on the indigenous people.
Not only have the state governments not taken a stock of FRA, on numerous occasions, they have launched brutal assaults on communities in collusion with forest departments and local mafias.
The invitation for the consultation notes, “Dalits and other poor communities like vulnerable migrants, who are occupationally subsistence cultivators, pastoral communities, fisherpeople and forest produce gatherers, dependent on land and forest resources for their livelihoods. Women are also ensured equal rights in the ambit of FRA. Along this reality, many forest dwelling communities in India believe that bio-diverse forests have survived better where communities live in close communion with the forests with their customary practices than where a state has displaced the communities, affecting the biodiversity they sustain as their livelihood source”
It is not clear if the rejection of claims can justify forced evictions. Since, as per the Act no communities can be legally evicted without their free and informed consent even from the “critical wildlife habitats” and surely not from other areas.
It is from this understanding that an initial meeting of movements held on December 11, 2018 in Delhi resolved the following :
1. Forest Right Act, 2006 must be implemented effectively and unconditionally in all forest regions including Critical Forest Area;
2. A united struggle will be launched with collective initiative of diverse forest rights organisations / groups and supporters in different walks of life including journalists, lawyers, researchers, social action groups and others;
3. A dialogue will be initiated with political parties to bring Forest Right Act in the mainstream political discourse so that this historic act can become an important political issue during and after the electoral process.
4. An All India level alliance be formed with organisations / groups, actively engaged in forestrights movement to represent the collective voice and to take forward the task ahead. FORESTS RIGHTS ALLIANCE was the proposed name.
The consultation will be preceded by a meeting of Bhumi Adhikar Andolan on July 1 at 10.30 am which will be critically discussing on the Land Acquisition Act 2013, the various state legislations which has been drafted in this regard. It would be pertinent to address the various issues especially in the context of the industrial corridor which is in its implementation stage at this point. Hence a one day deliberation on this aspects will be held on the first day. Bhumi Adhikar Andolan will be also providing critical support to the Forest Right Alliance.
Details of the consultation are as follows:
Land and Forest Rights Movements and the Way Forward
10:00 - 5:00 PM | July 1 – 2, 2019 |
ASSAM ASSOCIATION, Srimanta Sankaradeva Bhawan
Satsang Vihar Marg, A-14/B, Qutab Institutional Area,
New Delhi – 110067