Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), a national level outfit consisting of the tribals and forest dwellers which struggled for the enactment of the historic Forest Rights Act, 2006 and presently monitoring its implementation across the States organised a national convention against illegal takeover of forest resources by the Central Government and by many of the States governments. An account of the convention, held at the Indian Social Institute (ISI), New Delhi on 4th May 2016:
Over 250 delegates from mass organisations and people’s movements affiliated to CSD from ten States- Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Himachal – joined the convention and spoke about the struggles in their States and the illegal grabbing of resources and lands. From sharing of State’s representatives, it emerged that in every state the same pattern of violation and non-implementation of FRA is being repeated. Both the Centre and State governments are failing to recognise people’s rights over forest lands.
And the Central government is facilitating the illegal takeover of forest land through encouraging diversion of forest land without Gram Sabha’s consent, plantations on people’s lands, and by funding of parallel institutions intended to displace the powers of the gram sabha. The Convention ended with a condemnation of the consistent and criminal attack on transparency, accountability and democratic control over natural resources by the NDA government and by most State governments.
CSD had invited all the opposition national political parties to the convention and sought solidarity to its on-going campaign for the effective implementation of the historic forest rights in the country.
Joining the national convention, CPI(M) MP Jitendra Choudhury revealed how the Prime Minister’s Office and the Environment Ministry have continuously attempted to empower bureaucrats and bypass citizens’ rights – even those enshrined in law in the Forest Rights Act. He said “notwithstanding a judgment of the Supreme Court and their own public professions of commitment to forest rights, the Narendra Modi government continues to try to bypass the law- even after its own Tribal Ministry has said such moves are “illegal”.
He further noted that “this is of a piece with the government’s general efforts to disempower people”. “As with the land acquisition ordinance last year, the NDA government appears hell bent on empowering bureaucrats and corporates and destroying all transparent, accountable procedures for handing over land.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh joining the CSD national convention said “Modi Government is consistently trying to undermine the power of the Gram Sabha empowered under FRA, 2006.” Shri Jairam Ramesh explained how the Environment Ministry’s order of 2009, which spelled out the FRA’s requirements of gram sabha consent and completion of recognition of rights before diversion of forest land, is under systematic attack under the NDA. He noted that he had also faced tremendous pressure to privatise forest land for industry, but had resisted it; the NDA government then issued orders to that effect in August 2015.
JD(U) leader Ali Anwar (Rajya Sabha) addressing the convention targeted the NDA government for its anti-people policies and deliberate cultivation of corporates and the bureaucracy. Besides, leaders of the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation sent statements in support of the national convention who failed to attend due to parliament session.
The Convection also criticised the NDA government for recently passing the CAMPA Bill in the Lok Sabha which talks to spending of CAMPA fund by the Forest Department bypassing the authorised Gram Sabha Sarkar under Forest Rights Act, 2006. CSD has urged all the opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha to defend the FRA and to ensure Gram Sabha power over deciding the use of CAMPA fund in their community forest resource(CFR) area.