Govt Urged to Withdraw Forest Amendment Act and Implement Forest Rights Act


Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — At the conclusion of two-day ‘National Consultation on Land and Forest Rights Movements’ conference here on Tuesday, Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BBA), a platform working for the land rights of communities, strongly urged the government to withdraw the Forest Amendment Act and effectively implement Forest Rights Act (FRA).

It also announced a pan-India protest at the village level on July 22 this month to condemn the government actions and amendments in the Forest Act. The Conference also warned that in the coming days, the corporate attacks on water, forests, and land would increase manifold.

The two-day national consultation, attended by more than 200 representatives of the community organisations across the 12 states, was organized in the backdrop of the Supreme Court ruling of February 13 which posed a danger of immediate eviction of tribes and complete annulment of the Forest Rights Act.

The movements working on the forest and land Rights underlined that the Supreme Court’s February 13  order stated that if the claims of the tribal people under the FRA are rejected, then the State should evict them from the forests. Though,  after a lot of agitation, the Supreme Court amended its ruling and stayed it till July 10, 2019 but it is still unclear that how evictions can be justified on the basis of rejection of claims.

 There was complete unanimity in the conference that the largest threat to the Adivasis dwelling in the forests is from the “state violence”  because the people fighting for their rights under FRA from Kerala to Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and many other states are being arrested in the name of being Maoists and are being tortured. The participants also opined that it is very important to comprehensively evaluate the situation in order to address the relevant issues and formulate and understand an adequate strategy.

The two-day consultation noted that Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Acts, 2006, a.k. an FRA is the first important forest law which recognizes the historical injustice incurred upon the forest-dependent communities and Scheduled Tribes. Most of the people classified as Forest-dwellers in India belong to the Scheduled Tribes (ST), non-notified Adivasis, Dalits, and vulnerable poor communities who rely on land and forest for their livelihood. It noted that the state governments, however, continue to displace people which affects the biodiversity and has taken away their livelihoods.

Major points emerged from the discussions in the conference include:

* The Indian ruling class is totally in the hands of national and the international capitalists, and the might of which was on display in just concluded General Elections.

*The slogan of ‘Land to the tillers’ has now changed to ‘Land to the corporations’. The whole focus of the government is on robbing off the wealth from the hands of the farmers and transferring it to the capitalists.

* The industrial corridors, Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Bullet Train, Smart Cities, large ports, expressways, and highways are some examples where all the measures have been adopted to transfer their whole profit to the capitalist class.

*A major challenge before the people’s struggles today is the absence of strong opposition in the parliament. It is the need of the hour that we go beyond agitating on streets and the politics of demands and focus on generating a collective public awareness which can stand against the burgeoning Fascism and capitalism.

* Today we are confronted with the challenge to protect the democracy and fight against confusion, fear and hunger- and the people’s movements have to be ready to fight this.

The conference rejected the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The movements have demanded for years that the Forest Act should be changed and therefore, the organizations present in the House will prepare a new draft for this law.

The conference pointed out that the Gram Sabha is the strongest weapon in the hands of the community but the government is trying its best to take its powers away in a strategic manner by means of amendments and ordinances.

The movements also flagged that the claims made under the FRA were rejected by various ways in a planned manner. At some places, the act was not accepted at all and even today millions of Adivasis and forest dweller families are landless and wealth-less.

They said there is a situation of confusion created due to separate parallel processes of land and forests rights settlements by the government since 1996. More clarity is required from the government and the Courts regarding this.

In the conference,  it was also decided to intervene collectively in the ongoing case in the Supreme Court and agreed that movements will intensify their solidarity to ongoing struggles on the ground.

Besides this, a committee was also formed to monitor the new measures, tactics employed, and changes in the laws and other issues regarding the loot of the resources and then disseminate this information to the grassroots movements.

It also decided that movements will reach out to the progressive and SC/ST MPs of the ruling party and the opposition to inform them of FRA and other laws. It would organize a massive demonstration in Delhi on November 28.

The representatives from All India Union of Forest Working People  (AIUFWP), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Adivasi Adhikar Manch, Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha (Canning Lane), Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Mahasabha, Shoshit Jan Andolan, Sarvhara Jan Andolan, Bharat Jan Andolan, Jindabad Sangathan, Kashtakari Sangathan, Adivasi Aikya Vedike (Kerala), Lok Mukti Sangathan, Sarv Adivasi Sangathan, Dantewada, Tribal Foundation of Chhattisgarh, Baigam Tribal Development, Wardha, Gond Mahasabha Chhattisgarh, Bundelkhand Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Saharaiya Jan Adhikar Manch, Delhi Solidarity Group, Himdhara, Patha Dalit Adhikar Manch attended the conference.


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