A note on Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan’s press meet in Delhi addressed by Hannan Mollah, ex MP, All India Kisan Sabha; Ashok Chowdhury, General Secretary, and Roma, All India Union of Forest Working People; Sunit Chopra, Akhil Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union; Prem Singh, All India Kisan Maha Sabha; and Madhuresh Kumar, National Convener, National Alliance of People’s Movements:
The tenth year of passing the Forest Rights Act by the Indian Parliament will be marked by the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan [BAA] with a huge rally and demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on 15 December 2016. Around 5000 people belonging to various forest dependent communities from over ten states will be coming together in order to register and amplify their protest against the onslaught unleashed by the Forest Departments with direct support from the pro corporate BJP led Central government which are exploitative and repressive towards the forest dependent Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers.
It was reiterated unambiguously in the Forest Rights Act 2006 which clearly states that :
“the forest rights on ancestral lands and their habitat were not adequately recognised in the consolidation of State forests during colonial period as well as in independent India resulting in historical injustice to the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who are integral to the very survival and sustainability of the forest ecosystem;” [The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) 2006. Page 1]
While speaking about the rights of the people, the BAA declared that the current situation in the country is a matter of serious concern where on the one hand forest dependent communities are fighting in order to ensure the effective implementation of the FRA, but the fact remains that while on the one hand there is no “political will” to do this, on the other hand the colonial forest bureaucracy with direct involvement of the Ministry of Forest and Environment is also strongly opposing this. It is clear that the natural resources are being handed over to big corporates and illegal land acquisition is happening at on a massive scale.
This is one of the primary reasons for severe repression especially in forest areas which is a direct attack on natural resource dependent communities all over the country. On the other hand, the situation of an economic emergency created in the country since last month has affected the working classes across the country furthering them to a state of alienation. It is not only the migrant population but the rural working class including the forest workers who have been affected severely. Farmers are unable to sell their produce and are also unable to purchase seeds, fertilissers and other agricultural inputs due to this. Many people have died, many lost their jobs and the cycle of migration continues.
It was asserted that the current government is favouring the corporates in a way that they are clearly making attempts at diluting the FRA and also making amendments in land laws like the Santhal Paragana Tenancy Act 1949 [SPTA] and the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 [CNTA].
The recent controversial bill that outlines a framework for the utilisation of compensatory afforestation funds by the Compensatory Afforestation, Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) is also a case in point wherein, instead of using the CAMPA funds to empower local communities to carry out afforestation, forest enrichment activities and ecological restoration, the Bill proposes for the forest bureaucracy to handle those funds furthering the high-handedness of more bureaucratic control to snatch it away from the control of the people as envisioned in the FRA.
It was further pointed out that while India has made ambitious commitments as part of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions ( INDC) to sequester close to 3 billion tonnes of carbon, non effective implementation of the FRA , specially the Community rights – only 3% of the total possible forest area which should have got Community rights by now has merely been covered – will hamper this commitment as checking degradation of forests and enhancing forest stocks could best have been done by forest dependent communities with full community rights and no undue interference of corrupt forest department and even more corrupt Central government which is hell bent on selling off all the land , water and forests to global corporates.