MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2006-12-16


Forest Rights Bill Passed, but Government Betrays the Struggle of Lakhs, / Undermines Legislation and Manipulates Entire Legislative Process

Statement by Campaign for Survival and Dignity, India

16th December 2006

Today, December 16th, at 4 pm, one hundred tribals and forest dwellers from across India converged on the house of PR Kyndiah, Minister of Tribal Affairs, to protest the abject collusion of his Ministry and this government with the forest bureaucracy and private capital. These people, participants in the forest rights dharna on since 22nd November, decided to protest at hearing the news of what occurred in the Lok Sabha yesterday - when the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, was passed.

But the protesters came with one message: the passage of the forest rights Bill in this form is a betrayal of the struggle of lakhs of people. The law as passed will be highly limited in its beneficiaries and highly limited in its effectiveness. The following points are among the reasons why:

• We had demanded a reasonable definition of "forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe" and "other traditional forest dweller", but irrational and exclusive conditions have been imposed on both that would exclude most forest dwellers - tribal or not;

• We had demanded the right to protect our forests from industry and the forest bureaucracy, but the government has rejected that, since it wants to be free to destroy the forest;

• We had demanded that rights should be decided in a transparent and democratic method, in the gram sabha, but the government wants to keep control in the hands of government officials, thereby encouraging corruption and abuse of power;

• We had demanded a law with strong and clear legal provisions, but the government has retained provisions that will allow the courts and the authorities to arbitrarily interfere.

After half an hour of protesting outside his gate, the Minister agreed to meet a delegation. The delegation placed these and other significant points before him. He refused to give any commitment but agreed to look into the matters and requested a memorandum on the subject. He expressed a desire to ensure that the Bill is effective - a desire which unfortunately is not reflected in what was passed.

When the Campaign and other forest movements of this country fought for this Bill, our fight was not for title to our land alone - it was to create the space for a new system of forest management which would be transparent, friendly to ordinary people and democratic. This legislation provides a limited version of the former and denies the latter entirely.

Finally, the protesters also condemned the extremely undemocratic and manipulative process through which these changes were made. MP's were not shown the government amendments until ten minutes before the debate began in the House; the amendments were framed in a highly confusing manner; and it was ensured that the Bill was not brought up until the very end of the session, presenting political leaders with a Hobson's choice of either allowing this mutilated version to pass, or fighting for changes and thereby delaying the legislation by months. The officers of this government deceived Parliament, deceived political parties and deceived the people.

The very passage of this legislation is a victory, and no small victory at that. But the government's betrayal will be neither ignored nor forgiven.


National Convenor: Pradip Prabhu, 3, Yezdeh Behram, Kati, Malyan, Dahanu Rd.401602.

Delhi Contact: Q-1 Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi 110 016. Ph: 9968293978, 26569023.

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