Efforts by the Government of India, as also several state governments, to dilute the authority of gram sabha to decide on allotment of land to the tribals, an important provision in the Forest Rights Act, 2006, is being widely challenged. The Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, organized a Jail Bharo Andolan against the move on January 8, 2015. Following the campaign, which received wide support, the CSD issued the following statement:
Challenging the conspiracy and attempts of both the Central and State governments to dilute the authority of the Gram Sabha under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, the Odisha state chapter of Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), which played a vital role in mobilizing the tribals and forest dwellers across several states for the enactment of historic FRA in 2006, and is presently monitoring its implementation in different states, organized a Jail Bharo Anadolan at Lower PMG, Bhubaneswar. CSD condemned the Government of India for the recent anti-people Land Acquisition Ordinance, which again undermines the authority of the Gram Sabha, and also condemned the state government of Odisha for its failure to recognize the community forest rights even after implementation of the FRA since 2008 in the state.
CSD contended that the “Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 is a landmark social legislation which has brought in significant reform in the forest tenure and governance system of India to ensure security of rights and livelihoods to millions of adivasis and forest dwellers. It not only aims at establishing direct democracy at the grassroots but also vests community ownership rights over its natural resources.”
“FRA has changed the very concept of ‘Sarkar’, and has recognized the Gram Sabha (the village council) as ‘Gram Sabha Sarkar’ over its people and over all its natural resources and has entrusted the state governments and the Central government as the custodian of these resources, which has also been upheld by the Supreme Court of India in the historic Niyamgiri Case on April 18, 2013. The FRA 2006 has not only revived the provisions of the Central PESA Act, 1996, but also has extended the provisions of the PESA even to all the non scheduled areas.” CSD, said.
“However, after the formation of NDA government at the Centre, it is consistently trying to dilute the authority of the Gram Sabha established by the FRA, 2006, particularly for the diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes”, it added.
Criticizing the Environment Ministry, the CSD said, “It is a matter of great concern that the statutory rights and authorities vested by the FRA in the Gram Sabhas are being diluted by mere executive orders and directions issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of the Central government. Disregarding objections raised by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), which is the nodal agency for implementation of FRA, the MoEFCC has issued guidelines on October 28, 2014 seeking exemption of the requirement of Gram Sabha consent in blatant violation of the FRA. The M0EFCC order is not only illegal and arbitrary towards FRA, but it also tries to take away the rights of the Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) over forest and forest land. Besides, the order arbitrarily redefines the meaning of the forest land and is not in agreement with the Supreme Court verdict over forest land.”
“The very recent anti-people Land Acquisition Ordinance of the Central government has unearth the collusion of the Central government with the corporate sector before and after general election”, CSD alleged. “This Ordinance reestablishes the original Act of 1894, enacted by British imperialists. It totally ends the democratic process and the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) introduced in 2013 by UPA-I, wherein the district collector would have supreme power to acquire land”, CSD alleged.
Pointing out the conflicts between MoTA and MoEFCC, CSD said, “While the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) continues to dismiss any dilution of the power of the gram sabha under the FRA, the MoEFCC, which is supposed to save forests, is seriously engaged in executing the will of the Central government to please the corporates”.
Attacking the Odisha government, the alleged that “while the Government of Odisha claims to be No 1 in the whole country in distributing highest number of Individual Forest Rights (IFR) titles, the fact is that in maximum number of cases, IFR titles have been distributed without proper demarcation/verification of the occupied and claimed forest land, leading to serious conflicts. The IFR claims of OTFDs have been arbitrarily rejected by the Sub-Divisional Committee (SDLC)/bureaucrats and all the blame has been put upon the Gram Sabhas.”
Commenting on the recognition of community forest rights (CFR) in Odisha, the CSD contended, “Not a single community forest rights title has been properly issued in the state as per the claim filed in ‘C’ form, and Government of Odisha is misleading the MoTA over the actual CFR area distributed in the state. Most of the so-called CFR titles issued in the state are faulty in nature and misguiding.”
The CSD further alleged, “In the proposed mining and industrial areas/districts, the FRA is not implementing at all. In these areas, in spite of making people aware on their forest rights, the FRA Sub-Divisional Committee (SDLC) and District Level Committees (DLCs) are in hands-in-glove with both private and public sector companies, who are seriously engaged in collecting forged Gram Sabha resolutions – required under the FRA for diversion of forest land for non forest purposes) and getting projects sanctioned.”
Attacking the Odisha forest department, CSD contented, “While FRA 2006 supersedes all previous forest, wildlife, land, Minor Forest Produce (MFP), panchayati raj Acts, Rules and all administrative and Supreme Court’s orders on recognition of forest rights of tribals and OTFDs, the state forest department continue its Junglee raj by restricting the tribals and forest dwellers of the state to collect MFP from sanctuaries and national parks, obstructing them to be benefitted under minimum support price (MSP) launched by MoTA in July 2014 by showing the outdated and irrelevant Supreme Court order dated February 14, 2000.”
“Despite provisions under the FRA, the Government of Odisha has failed to identify and convert thousands of forest/unsurveyed villages into revenue villages, has failed to recognize the habitat rights of 13 primitive rribal groups (PTGs) of the state”, it added.
In view of all this, thousands of tribals and other traditional forest dwellers across the state from different people’s organizations affiliated with CSD joined in and showed their anger against the attempts of both Central and State governments to dilute the authority of the Gram Sabha Sarkar.
On this occasion, CSD Odisha convenor, Gopinath Majhi and leaders of the important struggle groups, democratic leaders fighting for strengthening the Gram Sabha Sarkar addressed the gathering.
At the end of the Jail Bharo Andolan, a delegation team consisting of Gopinath Majhi, Prafulla Samantra, Trilochan Punji, Ido Mandal and Anna Kujur met the governor and submitted a memorandum. The demands were:
- Stop the attempts to undermine the Power of the Gram Sabha Sarkar by diluting Forest Rights Act, 2006. Withdraw the October 2014 order, which is a step towards diluting the authority of the Gram Sabha.
- Withdraw the anti-people Land Acquisition Ordinance.
- Let the Gram Sabha Sarkar decide on any diversion of forest land for non-forest works, including allowing Khandadhar to POSCO, construction of Polavam Dam etc.
- Respect the decisions of the Gram Sabha Sarkar in the determination of the boundary of Community Forest Resource area.
- Don’t initiate any process for the diversion of forest land in any village before completion of individual and community rights recognition and settlement process.
- Stop interferences of bureaucrats in recognizing Individual forest rights of the OTFDs and respect the Gram Sabhas’ recommendation for it.
- Withdraw all forest offence cases filed against tribals and OTFDs before and after FRA, 2006.
- Do proper verification of IFR claims, correct all faulty IFR titles issued and stop any kind of plantation over the cultivable land(the rice bowel) of tribals and OTFDs.
- Ensure community ownership rights (collection and disposal) over minor forest produce from all forest areas, irrespective of reserve forests, sanctuaries and national parks, and return all the income generated from Kendu leaf business starting with 2006 to its real owners, the KL Pluckers of the state.
- Identify all the forest and unsurveyed villages in the state and convert them in to revenue villages as per the guidelines issued by MoTA on November 8, 2013.
- Recognize the primitive tribal groups’ (PTGs’) habitat rights of all the 13 PTG and particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) of the state so that these areas can be better protected from destruction.