Since 2013, members of the Tharu Adivasi tribe of Dudhwa region, in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh (UP) have been awaiting the approval of their community rights claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA). Procedural delays have kept them deprived of their rights for eight years! Yet they have continued their peaceful struggle.
Governments have come and gone, administrators have changed, but the resolve of the Tharu Adivasis remains unshaken. A representative and one of the leaders of the Tharu community, Sehvaniya, said the community has not lost hope. “The government is not paying any attention to the process. The district level officials are coordinating well but we have told them that they do not have the power to reject the claims. If there are any defects they can just return the claims and inform us about the same. When we spoke to the Welfare Officer, while submitting our objections to the rejection letter, he assured us that they will resolve this issue for us,” says Sehvaniya.
In their objections submitted to the Welfare officer of the district, the community has mentioned specific provisions of the FRA to demonstrate that the district committee has no power to reject their claims. Sehvaniya explains, “We told them that you have not bothered to read or look at FRA and have just plainly rejected our claims. They had pre-decided to just reject them; had we not read through the laws, we would not have known what to do. They are referring to the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India & Ors (1997) 2 SCC 267 but the legislature has formulated FRA and we will go by the law.”
They are hopeful as they have been assured of a meeting with the District Magistrate (DM). “We will ask for a meeting with the DM soon but before that we will need to understand our rights and the law better so that we are better prepared to have a discussion. They often comment that our claims and objections and communications with them are drafted by outsiders but that is not the case, we understand the laws and the legal process and we draft by ourselves with a help in understanding our rights and laws. They tell us some defect is there in our claims so we tell them you need to assist us in understanding the law so that the process becomes easy for us,” says Sehvaniya advising caution.
When asked about what has been the overall attitude of the forest department generally, she says, “The forest department does not cooperate with us, they have stuck to their ways of filing false cases against us. We are allowed to take lakdi (firewood) but they do not let us; we tell them that it is in the law but they say they do not go by it. They also set fire in the forests sometimes which destroys the habitat for the animals. There is not one family where a member has not had a false case against them. We just want our claims to be approved so the forest department’s behavior towards us changes.”
Sehvaniya says that they do receive cooperation from the police but they are also not much aware about forest rights and the laws “so they also get stuck between us and the forest department” She also added that there are some forest officers who come on transfer and if they try to help them in any way, they get adversely affected in one way or the other.
She sounds hopeful and resilient as they are eager as a community to learn and know about their rights and follow proper legal procedure as prescribed in the FRA, to finally get their community rights.
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