MAC: Mines and Communities

Forest Rights Dharna Successful in First Days

Published by MAC on 2005-12-15
Source: Campaign For Survival And Dignity

NCP Leader Pa Sangma Writes to Prime Minister in Support of Forest Rights Bill and JPC Report Other Political Leaders also Express Support

Campaign For Survival And Dignity Press Release

15 December 2005

In its first two days, the forest rights dharna has been a success, with representative from five States (Maharashtra, Nagar Haveli, Gujarat, Rajashtan, and Tamil Nadu) now present and other States arriving in the coming days.

Yesterday, the dharna also received the good news that former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma, General Secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party, has written to the Prime Minister demanding that the forest rights Bill be passed. Saying that this legislation "should not be allowed to be sabotaged or undermined due to misplaced concerns", Shri Sangma called on the government to accept the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which he said "has done an excellent, objective and comprehensive job."

Shri Sangma specifically reported four of the key recommendations of the JPC and strongly objected to the government's stand on rejecting non-ST forest dwellers (some groups of which the JPC had recommended for inclusion) and the government's persistence with a cutoff date of 1980. He said the former amounted to "unfair discrimination."

Recent rumoured proposals of two Bills, one for SC's and one for ST's, would lead to "competitive politics around forest rights" and "damage both forests and tribals." He concluded by saying that, now that the JPC has completed its work, he "fails to understand why the Bill should now be further delayed."

Shri Faggan Khulaste of the Bharatiya Janata Party also visited the dharna yesterday to express his strong support for the cause of the forest dwellers and the tribals and their struggle for a just and effective forest rights Bill. Shri Baba Panchsare of the Dalit Adivasi Sangharsh Samiti (affiliated to the All India Forward Bloc) also visited the dharna on Wednesday to declare his solidarity.

The dharna received these good news with great enthusiasm. More people are arriving from Tamil Nadu and Chattisgarh in the coming days. The people are preparing for the large rally planned for the 29th, when 12,000 to 15,000 people are expected to march in Delhi, and around 80,000 in simultaneous demonstrations in Mumbai, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi, Chennai and Bangalore.

Member, Lok Sabha
General Secretary, Nationalist Congress Party

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Hon'ble Prime Minister of India

Sub:- Concerns regarding government's position on Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005

Dear Sir,

I am writing in connection with the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, one of the most historic initiatives undertaken by our UPA government. This initiative is further in fulfillment of a promise made in the CMP.

Sir, the draft Bill as tabled in Parliament was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee in December 2005. The JPC, chaired by Shri Kishore Chandra Deo of the Congress party, undertook a detailed consideration of the Bill and gave a unanimous report in May of this year with more than thirty recommendations. Sir, these are key recommendations and I believe that the JPC has done an excellent, objective and comprehensive job.

It is in this context that I am very disturbed to hear repeated reports from the press, my fellow Members of Parliament and other parties that sections in the government are fiercely opposed to the JPC's recommendations and are intent on rejecting them. Specifically four important recommendations are being opposed: empowerment of the gram sabha in the process of decision- making over rights; safeguards for resettlement of forest dwellers; changing the 1980 cutoff date; and inclusion of non-ST's in the ambit of the Bill.

Sir, the first of these recommendations is a Constitutional requirement in Scheduled Areas under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, and moreover would guarantee transparency and accountability in the rights recognition process. Retaining the original Bill's provisions would lead to denial of rights and corruption. The second of these matters has already been de facto accepted by the government in the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act of this year, so once again I cannot see why it should now be opposed.

The remaining two matters are even more serious, particularly the 1980 cutoff date. This will lead to massive evictions across the country given the enormous amount of displacement, numbers of evictions etc. that have happened in the 26 years since that date. An entire generation has been born and come of age in that time. Further it is entirely arbitrary to hold that those who have been occupying and cultivating land since after 1980 should not have their rights recognized – but that 11 lakh hectares of forest land should allowed to be diverted for mining and industry in the same period. I am told further that the argument is being made that the Supreme Court is being seen as a threat to changing the 1980 date; sir, we are a democracy and cannot allow the Supreme Court to dictate to us on policy decisions which belong to the domain of Parliament. A recent cutoff date is the only just option.

I also support the inclusion of non-ST's in the manner that the JPC has recommended. While tribals are the original forest dwellers, one cannot ignore the large population of non-ST forest dwellers in many States who have resided in the forest and on their lands for generations. These people also have rights and their claims cannot be ignored. Therefore, the JPC had recommended that those who have lived in the forest for three generations should have their rights recognized, as well as those who have been forced into forest land by the government (such as forest villages, repatriates or displaced people). Not including these people amounts to unfair discrimination.

Finally, on this last issue I am particularly disturbed to hear rumours that the government is intent either on excluding non-ST's, on potentially drafting a separate legislation for SC's alone, leaving non-ST rights to be handled by executive orders, etc. Sir, these are all ideas that would result in a great deal of confusion on the ground, with a multiplicity of authorities. The notion of a separate legislation for SC's in particular would create a very dangerous precedent of deciding forest rights on the basis of caste identity, which in turn could lead to competitive politics around demanding forest rights. This would damage both the forests and the tribals.

Sir, there is growing discontent and unrest in forest and tribal areas across India due to the continued delay of the government in bringing this Bill. The JPC has studied the Bill and heard all parties; one fails to understand why the Bill should now be further delayed. I am sure your office and the concerned Ministries will take these matters into consideration when coming to a decision. This legislation is a matter of settling a historical injustice committed against the poorest people of our country. It should not be allowed to be sabotaged or undermined due to misplaced concerns.



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Dahanu Rd. 401602.
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