Campaign Responds to Ministry of Tribal Affairs Statement


STATEMENT FROM THE CAMPAIGN FOR SURVIVAL AND DIGNITY
(A national platform of tribal and forest dwellers' organisations from eleven States)

Today, the Minister of Tribal Affairs chaired a meeting of various State Ministers on the Forest Rights Act and released a rosy statement on the Act's implementation (http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=39861).  The reality is very different.  The reality is that the Tribal Ministry and the Central and State governments are still trying to undermine this law, even as they are being pressured into implementing it.  The reality is that the Tribal Ministry has abdicated its responsibilities and turned a blind eye to ongoing illegalities and crimes.  Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is happily sabotaging the law in tiger reserves and other protected areas.

Consider what is actually happening.  In Madhya Pradesh, houses were burned and families were evicted in three villages in Burhanpur District on the 7th, 8th and 12th of June.  Despite mass protests, till date the only response from both the MP government and the Ministry is silence.  In Tamil Nadu, on  May 26th, Kani adivasis in four villages in the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve were told they have to provide free, compulsory labour in putting out fires – or they would be evicted.    In Chhattisgarh, the State government has flagrantly violated the Act, producing its own illegal forms and trying to twist the process in the salwa judum affected areas.  And these are only the most glaring illegalities, with the experience in different States varying widely, based on the pressure from the ground and the political situation in each State.   Updated reports from Campaign constituents and other organisations can be found at :

http://forestrightsact.awardspace.com

Every single one of these illegalities is a criminal offence under the Forest Rights Act.  Local organisations are registering cases, staging demonstrations and fighting for justice.  In every case the Ministry has been informed of what is occurring.  Yet, despite the fact that they are the nodal agency for the Act, the Ministry has done absolutely nothing.  Requests for clarifications from State governments on key issues were kept pending for five months; some are still pending. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is trying to relocate people from "critical tiger habitats" in tiger reserves – in direct violation of the law, which requires that their rights be recognised first.  Under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, these areas have to be identified by a scientific, open case-by-case process with the consent of the local communities.  The Ministry, however, "identified" them in the space of a few weeks last year.  Now, in total violation of both the Wild Life Act and the Forest Rights Act, forest officials are threatening residents of these areas and offering a mirage of "cash compensation" (instead of the rehabilitation required by law) if they leave now, without their rights.  In Sariska in Rajasthan, Tadoba in Maharashtra, Buxa in West Bengal, and Mudumalai and Kalakkad Mundanthurai in Tamil Nadu, this has already begun.  When the Kanis challenged the illegal eviction notice in Kalakkad Mundanthurai, they were further threatened with unspecified "action" if they did not retract their reply.

The Forest Rights Act is a powerful weapon in the hands of the forest communities that fought for it, one that they are already using.  But in their struggles they continue to find the Ministry and the government to be far from the socially committed, law abiding bodies that Shri Kyndiah claims them to be.   The question for the Ministry, and for the Central and State governments, is simple:  Do they intend to implement the Act in letter and in spirit?  Or do they plan to continue the deceit and sabotage that has marked their attitude since this law was first drafted?

On behalf of the Convening Collective

Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Contact: 9810819301, http://forestrightsact.awardspace.com, forestcampaign@gmail.com