Lucknow: Amid slogans of liberty, freedom and rights, hundreds of tribal people assembled and carried out a rally at dense forest areas of Dhekwah village in Rajapur gram panchayat of Marihan tehsil under Mirzapur district on Monday, demanding implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the withdraw all cases registered against them.
The protesters, who marched to the ‘stone rocks’ on the banks of Jharinagari Nala, also sought 200 days minimum work for labourers in a year on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) job card and Rs 600 wage/day.
Despite the icy winds keeping the chill alive, which brought down the temperatures, people from at least seven villages of Marihan tehsil participated in the protest. The protest is being held under the banner of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has been working to implement FRA in the region for nearly six years.
FRA is a law that was brought in by the parliament in 2006 recognising that in several states across the country, there are people dependent on forest land for their livelihoods and that the forest conservation related legislations and the lack of proper forest and revenue settlement process had worked to deprive people of their rights on forest land. FRA grants land rights to those tribals and forest dwellers who have been tilling the land for years.
“On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary, around 300 tribals — both men and women — assembled under CPI(M) banner to raise the long pending demands. The land of the forest is under the control of the feudalistic land mafia and so-called religious babas. Such mafias were grabbing tribal lands by faking documents and winning the support of the police and the government. We want a proper implementation of FRA by the Forest department,” Rajnath Yadav, district president of CPI(M), led the protest, told NewsClick, adding that illegal occupation should be removed from the fertile land and it should be distributed among the landless adivasis (aboriginals).
Accusing the local police of allegedly engaging in multiple illegal methods of keeping adivasis away from forest lands, Yadav added, “Forest officials are preventing them from tilling their lands. When they object to these acts and stake their claim, they are threatened with false cases and arrests. However, religious baba Jai Gurudev occupied nearly 650 bigha land illegally, and nothing has happened despite notice served to him four months back.”
He further says, “Former Marihan MLA Lalitesh Pati Tripathi also occupied 6,500 bigha land near Kalwari, which belongs to tribals of the region. He was also served notice. Another baba, Swami Agra Nand Maharaj, is in the news for grabbing land in Sakteshgarh. The intimidation, eviction notices, and fake cases are only meant for poor adivasis but not applicable on these land mafias.”
The CPI(M) leader alleged that tribal people in Dhekwah, Darhiram, Rajapur, Marihan, Atari, Pateri, and Patehara villages are preventing them from farming by planting thorny plants so that they can not grow crops for their survival.
“The tribals have been denied their rights under MNREGA and FSA in tribal regions for years. We have been demanding rights for several years but to no avail,” says Yadav, who has been actively advocating for implementing FRA in the State.
Meanwhile, workers engaged at the sites of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have demanded an increase in work days from the present 100 to 200/household and a revision in the daily wages to Rs 600.
Dinkar Kapoor, state general secretary of All India Peoples’ Front, who is also a petitioner in FRA speaking with NewsClick, said, “93,430 land title claims were filed under FRA, and 74,538 was rejected by then Bahujan Samajwadi Party-led Mayawati government in 2011. We then approached Allahabad High Court in 2013 under the banner of Adivasi Vanvasi Mahasabha, and the court ordered a review, but the previous Akhilesh government did not do it. In 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, and instead of reviewing, the Yogi Adityanath government started serving eviction notices to vacate forestland immediately. The eviction notices were not only issued in Mirzapur but also served in Sonbhadra, Chandauli, and Bundelkhand to harass tribals.”
Kapoor, based in Sonbhadra, working for the rights of tribals, added, “In 2017, we filed PIL in Allahabad High Court, and the court stayed eviction and ordered for review in 18 weeks on October 11, 2018. The review process began, but COVID-19 stopped everything. It resumed again post-pandemic, but the harassment continued,” he alleged.
On November 15, 2022, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Sonbhadra and promised to give the land title to the adivasis, but nothing seemed to be working on the ground.
All India Peoples’ Front will launch Bhoomi Adhikar Abhiyan, where they will campaign door-to-door in Sonbhadra, Mirzapur region, to implement FRA.
Around 45,000 adivasis of at least 52 villages spread over 22 panchayats in the Rajhaua forest at Manikpur block of Bundelkhand’s Chitrakoot district were served with eviction notices because their villages are located in Ranipur Wildlife Sanctuary (a sub-division of the Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar), which came into existence in 1980. NewsClick has reported from the ground during the 2022 Assembly elections.