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Protests Across India Against NDA Government’s Attack on Forest Rights

Between November 18th and November 24th, mass protests attended by tens of thousands of people are taking place in seven States across India. The demands of the protesters are simple: stop illegally encouraging government officials and private business to engage in scams, and start respecting democracy, transparency and accountability under the law. The specific demands are below. The protests are as follows:

  • Tuesday, November 18th: protests and public meetings took place in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu and in Wayanad, Kerala. Each was joined by several hundred people. Contact: M.S. Selvaraj,Campaign for Survival and Dignity – Tamil Nadu, 09442085049
  • Today, November 20th: mass protest in Dangs District, Gujarat. Contact: Dineshbhai Powar, Convenor, Adivasi Mahasabha, 07874362297
  • Tomorrow, November 21st: a mass convention on forest rights and natural resource issues will take place in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Contact: Alok Shukla, Convenor, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, 09977634040; Bijaybhai, 09425364761
  • Saturday, November 22nd: a public protest rally followed by a public meeting on forest rights in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Contact: Rajkumar Sinha, Madhya Pradesh Jangal Jeevan Adhikar Bachao Andolan, 09424385139
  • Monday, November 24th: a mass convention against the anti democratic and anti people measures of the Central government in Mumbai, Maharashtra. Contact: Brian Lobo, Shoshit Jan Andolan, 09421549824.
  • Monday, November 24th: Secondly, a protest dharna in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. Contact: Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity / Chetna Andolan, 09873657844.

DEMANDS NOTE: MASS PROTESTS AGAINST ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY IN THE FORESTS

Today the Central and State governments are moving very fast to make it easier for the Forest Department and big companies to take over forests and violate people’s rights. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 has barely been implemented properly. Even though the law says that every village with forest dwellers should have rights recorded over their community forest resources, this has not even happened in 1% of the villages. In the places where this has happened, such as in Gadchiroli or parts of Maharashtra, the Forest Department is trying to take control back into its own hands.

The new Central government – continuing the work of the Environment Ministry of the last government – is trying to destroy the Act through the back door. Some of the steps taken since May:

  • Orders have been issued that control over minor forest produce should be given to JFM committees, not the gram sabha (this is completely illegal).
  • On July 31st, the Prime Minister’s Office held a meeting where they asked the Environment Ministry to issue orders saying that projects can be given forest land without gram sabha consent. This is illegal and in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders. Meanwhile, even though this change has not been made, the government has cleared projects without taking the consent of gram sabhas.
  • Senior Ministers like Nitin Gadkari and Prakash Javadekar are writing letters supporting the Maharashtra Forest Department, which is trying to create a system which will give the Forest Department full control over management of community forests.
  • On October 28th, the Environment Ministry issued an illegal notification giving District Collectors the power to decide, in certain areas, if the Forest Rights Act needs to be implemented prior to forest land diversion. This is an incitement to criminal actions and violations of the law.

We condemn these steps and call upon the government to respect democracy in the forest and stop trying to illegally sabotage the power of the gram sabha. We demand:

  • Respect the power of the gram sabha to manage, use and protect forests and forest lands.
  • Stop rejecting claims and recognise all individual and community rights. Stop interfering with role of the gram sabha in deciding rights.
  • Reject any project which gram sabhas have not consented to. Punish officials and companies who have taken over forest land without gram sabha consent.
  • Respect gram sabha’s power to manage and non-timber forest produce, and to take the full revenue from it.
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