Letter by Devendra Rajim Devendra (Dalit Adivasi Manch) and Alok Shukla (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan) to Nand Kumar Sai, chairperson, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), New Delhi, asking seeking urgent intervention following forced eviction of scheduled tribe (ST) families in Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh in violation of the Forest Rights Act:
We are writing to bring to your attention a recent case of forced evictions and atrocities against ST families, including women and children, and arrest of one member, Rajkumar, in Rampur village inside the Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Balodabazaar district, Chhattisgarh.
On 15 January 2018, Forest Department (FD) officials, including the Forest Ranger Mr.Sanjay Rautia, physically assaulted members of tribal families, women and children, molested the women, and destroyed the devsthal (sacred site) of Rampur village. Rampur is a forest village inside the Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary, and these assaults were a part of the FD’s continuing attempts to illegally evict the families residing there, even though they have customary rights over the land and some have recognized IFR rights under Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The local police at Rampur thana has refused to register an FIR in the case though the case involves criminal atrocities against the ST families and violation of their legal rights protected under the FRA. Instead, the police joined with FD officials in assaulting Rajkumar as several gathered to demand registration of FIR for the earlier assault.The police then filed a retaliatory FIR against Rajkumar at the behest of the range forest officer Mr.Sanjay Rautia. On 25 January 2018, when Rajkumar was being taken to Ambedkar Hospital for treatment for his injuries, he was arrested in his weak physical condition and prevented from availing necessary medical care. Rajkumar remains in custody until today.
In violation of Ss.3(1)(h) and S.4(1), FRA, Rampur has not been converted into a revenue village. The Community Forest Resource rights (CFR) and Community Resource (CR) rights have not been formally recognized, although some households hold Individual Forest Rights titles, including Rajkumar. The forest department’s action of evicting tribal families and destroying community resources (local boring well and devsthal) is a blatant violation of the FRA and is also an offence under ST/SC Prevention of Atrocities Act.
As public officials, the actions of the police and FD officials are liable for prosecution under Sections.3(1)(g), 3(1)(p), 3(1)(q) ,3(1)(w) and 3(1)(z) read with 3(2)(vii) of Prevention of Atrocities Act. The attempts to forcefully relocate families from the Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary is also a violation of their forest rights under FRA, as S.4 clearly states that no relocation of rightsholders can occur until rights under FRA are recognized.
We are requesting for urgent intervention by the NCST to direct the state government to:
- stop forceful eviction and atrocities against the tribal families by FD and legal action against the FD officials for violation of tribal rights,
- secure release of Rajkumar and provide compensation for illegal arrest,
- restore forest rights of the families evicted from the village, and
- ensure recognition and vesting of rights to all STs and OTFDs living in the Wildlife Sanctuary.