‘Black Day’ Protest against ecological plunder of forests, displacement of indigenous communities: Bhumi Adhikar Andolan

The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, a decade long platform of mass organisations working on issue of indigenous peoples, farmers rights and ecologiocal protection has called for a nationwide protest against the exploitation of forest lands and the regressive proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) on Friday, June 30
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The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan has given a nationwide call to protest the ecological plunder of India’s forests and the regressive amendments in the Forest Conservation Bill, 2023 stating clearly that this will pose a danger to the hard-fought for Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Apart from giving far too many exemption powers to the union government ensuring negative control over forest lands, the power of the Gram Sabhas under the proposed amendments has been diluted which undermines local-level actions for biodiversity conservation, contradicts constitutional provisions, and hinders the recognition of forest rights and the decision-making processes of communities.

The proposed amendments in the Forest Conservation Amendment Bill 2023 have raised significant concerns and sparked the need for protest. There are several reasons contributing to the opposition to these amendments:

  1. Exclusion of forest areas:The proposed amendments redefine and review forests in a way that could potentially exclude vast forest areas from the protection of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA). This disregard for forest conservation would result in extensive deforestation, environmental degradation, and the loss of livelihoods and biodiversity. Forest-dependent communities would face hunger, starvation, and displacement as a consequence.
  2. Violation of marginalised communities’ rights:The proposed amendments overlook provisions in the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 and the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act (LARR) of 2013, thus violating the rights of marginalized communities. By limiting the application of the FCA and FRA, the amendments risk expediting forest diversions without the consent of local self-governance bodies known as Gram Sabhas. This perpetuates historical injustices and undermines the constitutional rights of marginalized communities.
  3. Concentration of power:The amendments grant extensive powers to the central government, enabling them to issue directions and assign forest lands to any party. This concentration of power undermines existing checks and balances, such as the Forest Advisory Committee and the Centrally Empowered Committee. The amendments neglect the importance of consultative processes with state and local governments and forest-dwelling communities, further centralizing decision-making authority.
  4. Exemptions and lack of oversight:The amendments introduce exemptions for strategic projects, security-related infrastructure, and public utility projects, as well as provisions for eco-tourism facilities, silvicultural operations, and zoos and safaris. These exemptions create opportunities for private entities to gain control over forests and forest resources without adequate forest clearance requirements. The lack of impact assessments and regulatory oversight poses risks to habitats, species, and forest ecosystems.
  5. Disempowerment of Gram Sabhas:Lastly, the proposed amendments weaken the authority of Gram Sabhas and concentrate governance power in the hands of the central/union government. This undermines local-level actions for biodiversity conservation, contradicts constitutional provisions, and hinders the recognition of forest rights and the decision-making processes of communities.

Sabrangindia had done a detailed analysis and pointed out the several exemption powers given to the Union government under the proposed FCA Bill, 2023. This may be read here.

Given these serious concerns, the call for the nationwide protest has been given, the demand being a strong recommendation for the withdrawal of these amendments and the alignment of the Forest Conservation Act with the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. This would ensure the recognition and vesting of forest rights and the decision-making authority of Gram Sabhas. The involvement and consent of local communities, as well as the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, should be prioritized in any forest conservation and governance framework.

All members and supporters of the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan have been urged to join in the protest. The protest, says the BAA will serve as a powerful statement of our opposition to the unabated loot of forest lands and the regressive amendments proposed in the Forest Conservation Act. Protests will be organised at the block level and state level. It is through this  collective action that the movement intends to send a strong message to those in power that large sections of the people, the majority, stand united in our demand for justice, environmental protection, and the preservation of the rights of forest-dwelling communities.

During the protest demonstrations, following key messages will be highlighted:

  1. Condemnation of forest land exploitation:We strongly condemn the ongoing exploitation of forest resources, which not only harms the environment but also displaces indigenous communities from their ancestral lands.
  2. Rejection of the proposed amendments:We vehemently oppose the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, as they seek to dilute the provisions of the Forest Rights Act and undermine the rights of forest-dwelling communities.
  3. Solidarity with forest-dwelling communities:We express our unwavering support for the rights of forest-dwelling communities and pledge to stand by them in their struggle for justice and self-determination.

The organisaions that are a part of the BAA include National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Chhattisgarh BachaoAndolan, Adivasi Adhikar Manch, Adivasi Aikya Vedike, Adivasi Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, All India Kisan Sabha (Canning Lane), All India Kisan Sabha (Ajay Bhavan), All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Sangathan, All India Kisan Mahasabha, All India Agriculture Workers Union, All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), Bharat Jan Andolan, Bhartiya Kisan Union Arajnitik Asli, Bundelkhand Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch, Delhi Solidarity Group,  Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Himdhara Collective, Jan Ekta Jan AdhikarAndolan, Jan Sangharsh Samanyvay Samiti, Janmukti Vahini, JindabadSangathan, KashtakariSangathan, Kisan Manch, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Lok Mukti Sangathan, Lok Sangharsh Morcha, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Mines Minerals and People, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Sanyukt Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Sarv Adivasi Sangathan, Sarvahara Jan Andolan, Shoshit Jan Andolan, Adhikar Manch, Kaimoor Mukti Morcha, BJSA, JanmatuSangthan, Jharkhand BachaoAndolan, Lok Sangharsh Morcha, Jan Sangharsh Samanvaya Samiti, INSAF, Kisan Manch, Adivasi Ekata Parishad and others.


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