We Will Take Our Forest Rights
November 15, 2019
National Adivasi Alliance (NAA), a collective of people’s organizations espousing the cause of the tribals’ on Forest Rights Act (FRA) drawn from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand and Delhi assembled at Rangapadar in Kalahandi district of Odisha. In its National Review and planning meeting held on 12th and 13th October 2019, the NAA registered its unequivocal protest against Supreme Court ruling that came in February 13th 2019 which posed a danger of destruction of immediate eviction of tribes and other traditional Forest dwellers complete annulment of the Forest Rights Act. Meanwhile, the proposed amendment of Indian Forests Act, 1927 has strengthened these efforts and the attempts to capture the forests and the forests dwellers by the forest department have escalated, again.
The National Adivasi Alliance (NAA) gave a call for a nationwide protest on November 18th against Government’s policy resulting on attacks on the rights of Adivasis and forest dwellers.
Nationwide protest rallies will be held against the anti-people policies of the Central Government that target Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers. No one has carried out such an all-out assault on forest rights since colonial times as like the present BJP Government. The Central Government took two policy decisions in 2019 that threatens the customary rights of over 10 crore Adivasi and other forest dwellers.
However, the proposed amendment to Indian Forest Act 1927 is even more colonial and frightening. IFA, 1927 has been criticized for decades as it was introduced by the British who not only wanted to establish legal control over India’s forests—23 per cent of India’s landmass — but also to earn revenue from timber. But the proposed new amendment has far-reaching implications. Not only does it have provisions to override other forest laws, especially the hard-fought Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, and displace forest communities, but it also allows the forest department to use firearms to prevent offences. Yet, no forest officer can be prosecuted unless the state government approves, and a case, once filed, cannot be withdrawn. [Section 66(2)]
If the proposed amendment becomes law, then forest department staff can end the forest rights of any Adivasi or forest dweller in the name of forest protection by just paying them a paltry sum of money [Section 22A (2), 30 (b)]. They can conduct raids and arrests without warrant. They can confiscate the property of any Adivasi or forest dweller. If the forest department accuses anyone of possessing any illegal objects, the accused will have to prove innocence and not the accuser. If the proposed amendment becomes law, it will end the rule of law in the forests. Anyone can be arrested or shot if the Ranger or the District Forest Officer orders so.
We suspect that the plan is to remove forest dwellers from the forests so that the forests can be handed over to private companies for making huge profits.
The Central Government remained silent for 2017 to February 2019 in the ongoing Supreme Court case against the FRA due to which the lies of the petitioners were not challenged. This resulted in the 13th February 2019 Court order to evict lakhs of forest dwellers whose claims had been rejected. The Government only pleaded to keep the eviction on hold for some time. This Court order is hanging like a sword over the heads of the country’s Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers till date. Again the Central Government’s counsel abstained in the Supreme Court’s hearing on 12th September 2019. It should be remembered that the FRA has not been properly implemented in many of the states by not following the procedures.
The National Adivasi Alliance (NAA) appeals to the people and organizations to come out in the streets all over the country against the draconian proposed amendment to IFA 1927 and the Supreme Court’s move to evict the Adivasis and forest dwellers from forest. The people’s support to the democratic and peaceful struggle would help in protecting the forest rights. Hence, we request you to participate in the struggle for the rights of the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwelling communities on 18th November 2019.
First published in CounterCurrents.
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