Plans for Protest Against Repression and Continued Colonisation of Forest


Friends,


There has been silence for a long time from us on this list, but as usual that doesn't mean things are not happening. Indeed the struggle has been continuing on multiple fronts since the sabotaged Forest Rights Act was passed in December.


First, evictions and repression have by no means stopped. The most brutal event so far happened on the 19th of April, Thursday, in Ghateha, Rewa District, Madhya Pradesh, where activists and protesters organised by the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers and the Birsa Munda Bhu Adikar Manch were fired on by police when attempting to assert rights over disputed forest lands which had apparently been denotified in 1974. The firing occurred despite ongoing negotiations with the Collector, who was reportedly taking a positive view. Till the present date – over a week - a large police force remains in the area and most of the families have fled. Efforts are on in Madhya Pradesh to get the police out of the area, and some pressure is occurring in Delhi. The organisations need more support. Please see the action alerts circulated earlier by NFFPFW for more details and how to assist.


Rewa has not been the only incident. In northern West Bengal, 150 acres of cultivated land were occupied by the Forest Department on April 12. In Madhya Pradesh, in addition to the Rewa incidents, Burhanpur and Khandwa districts have also seen forced evictions. In Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and other areas, repeated evictions have occurred through plantations, JFM committees or other methods that are made to appear "participatory." It is clear that there are efforts across the country to evict people before they can claim their rights under the Forest Rights Act.


In response, the Campaign has decided to issue a national call for action between May 7th and 11th . Protests in major cities across the country are planned. The demands include a halt to evictions, state repression and the use of JFM and other tactics to mask evictions and land grabbing by the Forest Department. As well, the CSD will be demanding amendments to the Forest Rights Act to respond to the sabotage of the legislation during its passage in December - continuing our stand and work that this Act, while a huge victory for the struggle, is by no means effective in itself. Finally, the CSD also will be demanding the Scheduling of all adivasi areas and of all adivasi communities, a vital step towards enforcing respect for adivasi institutions and rights in the legal framework, and as part of the struggle against the targeting of adivasi areas for mining and other forms of resource grabbing.


The notice for the protests is pasted below. In addition, the process of framing Rules for implementing the Forest Rights Act is underway, and it is hoped that rules sensitive to adivasis and forest dwellers will emerge from this process. The Campaign continues its struggle against the SEZ Act ,the new Environmental Impact Assessment notification and other steps aimed at seizing, privatising and destroying the resources of this country's forests and forest communities.


Campaign for Survival and Dignity



NATIONAL CALL TO ACTION

RECOGNISE OUR RIGHTS

END THE COLONISATION OF OUR HOMELANDS



In December 2006, the UPA government passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. When it was passed, Minister for Tribal Affairs P.R. Kyndiah declared that this "historic Bill will undo a historical injustice."


But what has happened since?
The Forest Department has begun widespread evictions across India. Disobeying the mandate of Parliament and sabotaging the law, the aim of the Department is clear – to ensure that tribals and forest dwellers are thrown out before they can claim their rights under the Act.
A steady expansion in programmes like plantations, Joint Forest Management, acquisition for biodiesel and so on is ensuring that people's lands are being taken from them even while the Act hangs in suspended animation.
The Act itself is so badly sabotaged that it contains clauses that would exclude the majority of tribals and forest dwellers from eligibility and make the process for recognition of others' rights even more difficult. Even when it is in force, it will do nothing for most forest dwelling peoples.
Adivasis in particular face an increasing offensive by the government to seize their lands and resources for corporations and contractors, be it in the name of mining, of "development" or of SEZs. The Constitutional protection for adivasi lands and rights is being nullified by the lack of Scheduling of most adivasi areas, even as it is illegally violated and ignored in the Scheduled Areas that exist.


Is this how the UPA government intends to "undo the historical injustice" done to us?

Between May 7th and May 11th, the Campaign therefore will be issuing a national call to action for protests across India. We expect protests in major cities of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere.

Our demands will be as follows:


   1.Immediately halt all evictions and bring the Act into force to prevent such evictions.
   2.Amend the Act in this session of Parliament to correct the sabotage of the legislation at the time of its passage (see reverse for required amendments).
   3.Halt all Joint Forest Management and plantation schemes that are aimed at takeover of people's lands. Any future 'participatory' conservation has to respect the powers and rights of the gram sabha under the Act.
   4.Respect the Constitutional provisions of the Fifth and Sixth Schedules and ensure that all adivasi areas are scheduled and all adivasis declared as Scheduled Tribes.
   5.Repeal or withdraw all policies and legislations aimed at making it easy to seize control of resources for capital, like the Special Economic Zones Act and the revised Environmental Impact Assessment notification.

Bharat Jan Andolan, National Front for Tribal Self Rule, Jangal Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti (Mah), Adivasi Mahasabha (Guj), Adivasi Jangal Janjeevan Andolan (D&NH), Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan (Raj), Madhya Pradesh Van Adhikar Abhiyan (MP), Jan Shakti Sanghatan (Chat), Peoples Alliance for Livelihood Rights, Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Orissa Jan Sangharsh Morcha, Campaign for Survival & Dignity (Ori), Orissa Adivasi Manch, Orissa Jan Adhikar Morcha, Campaign for Survival and Dignity – TN, Adivasi Aikya Vedike (AP), Bharat Jan Andolan (Jhar).

Points of Amendment in the Act



  1. Remove the requirement that forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers should primarily reside in the forest; if this is understood to mean that their residences should be on forest land, this will exclude the vast majority of people. All those who self-cultivate forest land or depend on collection of minor forest produce or other forest resources for their survival and livelihood should be eligible.
  2. Implement the assurance of the Minister for Tribal Affairs that "all those settled in forests by government policy", like forest villages, should be covered under the Act. Otherwise, non-ST's among these groups, who are among the most vulnerable forest dwellers, will be excluded unless they have resided in the forest for 75 years.
  3. Reinstate the recommendation of the Joint Parliamentary Committee that the gram sabha for the Act should be the assemblies of the actual hamlets or settlements, not the gram sabha of the revenue village or Gram Panchayat. The revenue gram sabhas will be too large and will result in manipulation.
  4. Replace section 13 of the Act – which says the legislation will be "in addition to and not in derogation of" other Acts - with a clear statement that this Act will override any legislation that contravenes it. The vague clause gives far too much space for judicial intervention and manipulation by the authorities.
  5. Reinstate the process of recognition of rights recommended by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which stated that the primary authority should be that of the gram sabha and that higher committees should not have the power to arbitrarily overturn the decisions of the gram sabha. This is necessary if the legislation is to be transparent and democratic in implementation; otherwise there will be widespread abuse of power and corruption.