National Convention on Forest Rights Condemns Anti-Democratic, Anti-People Policies and Calls for Protests
`At a two day national convention on forest rights held in Delhi on May 14th and 15th, more than a hundred delegates from twelve states condemned the Central and State governments’ failure to implement the Forest Rights Act, as well as the Central government’s recent policies on forests. They described these steps as an attack on the rights of tribals and forest dwellers, the environment, and the basic values of democracy and our Constitution. The Convention resolved that on two dates, June 5th and August 9th, protests will be held in blocks and districts across the country against these policies. The protests will call for the government to take four key steps: recognise the individual forest rights of all forest dwellers and the community forest rights of all villages in forest areas; withdraw or amend all recently passed environment and forest laws that violate forest rights; direct action against forest officials who violate forest rights and/or decisions of gram sabhas (village assemblies) under the Forest Rights Act; and ensure that any project using forest land is only approved after the consent of affected villages’ gram sabhas and made subject to their plans for managing the forests, as required by the law. The Convention was joined by senior opposition leaders Brinda Karat (Politbureau member, CPI(M)), Jawahar Sircar (Member of Parliament, TMC, Rajya Sabha) and Nabakumar Sarania (Member of Parliament, Independent, Lok Sabha).
The Forest Rights Act was passed in 2006 in order, as the law stated, to correct the “historical injustice” done to the tribal and forest dwelling communities of the country by the colonial rulers when they seized India’s forests for their use. In addition to providing for recognition of the individual rights of forest dwellers over the forest land and resources they use, the law also provided for the right of forest dwelling communities to protect and manage their forests. Delegates to the Convention said, however, that 17 years after the law was passed, most forest dwellers in the country have not received recognition of their individual rights, and the vast majority of forest dwellers’ villages have not received recognition of their rights over their community forests either. Meanwhile, the Central government has brought in a series of laws and policies that directly undermine forest rights. These include the 2016 Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act; the 2022 amendment to the Forest Conservation Rules, in which the Central government sought to wash its hands of any responsibility for respecting forest rights when handing over forest land for projects; and the now proposed 2023 amendments to the Forest Conservation Act. Delegates also stressed that these changes undermine democracy and violate the values of the Constitution.
In addition to the decision to call for protests, the Convention also decided that all the attending states will send representations to the Joint Parliamentary Committee constituted to review the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act.
More Efforts to Sabotage Forest Rights Via the Courts and the Government – But the Struggle Continues
On Tuesday, September 13th, the Supreme Court once again heard the cases filed against the Forest Rights Act – after a gap of three years. During the hearing, efforts were once again made to secure court orders that would have deprived millions of our country’s most oppressed communities of their rights – efforts that failed due to the intense resistance of lawyers representing tribal organisations. This hearing comes at a time when the rights of tribals and forest dwellers are under attack as never before. There are new efforts to make it easier to displace them, to accelerate forest destruction, and further marginalise their rights.
In 2019, the last time these cases were heard, the government failed to argue in defense of forest dwellers, resulting in eviction orders that threatened millions of tribals and forest dwellers across the country. These orders were eventually ‘suspended’ after nationwide protests forced the government to return to court and ask for them to be ‘put on hold.’ But the orders remain on paper, hanging like a sword above the heads of the country’s forest dwellers. In Tuesday’s hearing the government did appear, but only to ask for an adjournment. Meanwhile, the petitioners – a small group of elite NGOs, two of whom have already dropped out – tried once again to mislead the court and secure orders that would have pressurised states to reject claims and/or evict people. The petitioners’ lawyers were strongly opposed by lawyers representing various tribal and forest dwellers’ organisations, leading the bench to finally state that no orders wouuld be issued without hearing everyone. The matter has now been posted for after Diwali.
The situation for tribals and forest dwellers at present is dire. After the eviction orders of 2019, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs – the national “nodal agency” for recognising forest rights – instructed all state governments to “review” claims for rights that had been illegally rejected. On paper this may seem like a good thing. However, these rejections were “reviewed” through processes that was often just as illegal and opaque as the first time around, resulting in many rejections being “confirmed.” Meanwhile, other than this review, neither the Tribal Ministry nor most state governments (with a handful of exceptions) have undertaken any initiatives at all for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, leading to most tribals and forest dwellers not receiving either their individual or their community rights.
On top of these moves, in July the Environment Ministry notified new rules under the Forest (Conservation) Act under which the Ministry essentially washed its hands of forest rights. The Ministry now says that it would clear the use of forest land for projects without in any way checking if forest dwellers’ rights had been recognised or if the project had secured the legally required consent of the affected gram sabhas. This sends a clear message – the Central government does not see the rights of tribals and forest dwellers being of any importance.
We call upon the Central government to carry out its constitutional and statutory responsibility to recognise and protect the rights of tribals and forest dwellers – in court and outside. Meanwhile, communities will continue to struggle for their rights and for justice.
On behalf of the Convening Collective
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
“Joint Coordination” By Tribal and Environment Ministries – Undermining Forest Rights Through the Back Door?
हिंदी के लिए नीचे देखें
On July 6th, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs issued a “joint communication” to all State governments on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. This “joint communication” conceals more than it reveals and we fear it may actually undermine this vital law even further. As a national platform of tribal and forest dwellers’ organisations, we do not agree with the organisations that have welcomed this communication and instead call upon the government to immediately ensure that all policies respect the rights of forest dwellers and to take action against officials who violate them.
First, some background. The Forest Rights Act has been the subject of an unrelenting attack by forest officials since it was passed in 2006. This attack has become far more intense under the NDA government, culminating in the government’s failure to defend the law in the Supreme Court that led to an order in February 2019 that would have resulted in the eviction of millions of families. After nationwide protests by forest dwellers the government succeeded in getting the Court to put its order on hold, but since then it has done nothing either in that case or otherwise to ensure implementation of the law and recognition of rights. Instead, in most major states, implementation of this law has slowed to almost nil – but the Central Ministry of Tribal Affairs only focused on reviewing rejected claims. Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry has been pushing and implementing policies that either ignore or directly violate the Forest Rights Act, including passing the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act without a word about forest rights in 2016, proposing a draconian Indian Forest Act in 2019, repeatedly proposing handing over forests to private companies for afforestation (see here for instance), planting trees on lands used and cultivated by forest dwellers in the name of afforestation, and so on. Repeatedly, despite the law’s clear requirement that the consent of communities is required before forests can be destroyed for ‘development projects’ and private companies, the Environment Ministry has simply broken the law and handed over tens of thousands of hectares of land. Most recently, over a hundred projects were recommended for forest diversion during the national lockdown – at a time when there was no way the forest authorities could have taken the consent of forest dwellers’ gram sabhas (village assemblies), as required by law.
Against this combination of apathy and illegality comes the new ‘joint communication.’ At first glance this seems like a welcome change from years of silence. But it very quickly descends into an eyewash, declaring that there has “been no conflict insofar as the legal framework of the law is concerned” (para 3) – a statement that flies in the face of facts.
The communication may in fact dilute forest rights in three crucial ways:
- Community forest management: The Forest Rights Act provides – for the first time in over a century – that forest dwellers have a legal right to protect and manage forests. This right is a legal right that supersedes any Forest Department controlled arrangement. But this has barely been implemented, and the new communication now says that forest officials should “assist” gram sabhas in preparing plans and that the “benefits” from Joint Forest Management – an entirely Forest Department controlled scheme – should be “harnessed” for this (paragraph 6). Even more critical is what the communication does not say, which is that, as per the Act, Rules and even Tribal Ministry guidelines, decisions and plans made by the gram sabha for forest protection supersede Joint Forest Management and will be binding on forest officials and other actors a well. These paragraphs will just become a license for forest officials to again attempt to impose their diktats, if they make any difference at all.
- Non-timber forest produce: One of the central sources of income for tribals and forest dwellers, NTFP is, as per the Act, the property of forest dwellers. Most major states have ignored this provision and continued to allow the forest authorities to have a monopoly over NTFP. This communication indirectly strengthens this practice by directing State Forest Departments to undertake projects for value chain addition on NTFPs (para 8(i)) without saying a word about respecting ownership rights.
- Bringing the forest bureaucracy back into policymaking: The Act says that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs will be the nodal agency for issuing directions on forest rights, and indeed at the time of the Act’s passage the government’s Business Rules were amended to place the rights of forest dwellers in the Tribal Ministry’s domain. This was deliberately done to ensure that forest officials do not attempt to hijack the law. But the new communication says that State governments should approach the Central government for clarifications, and “both Ministries may take a collective view” on issues that arise from the law. This is essentially a back door for forest officials to control implementation of the law, when the law itself specifically denies them that role.
All in all this new joint communication, rather than a step forward for forest rights, appears to be one more in a long sequence of efforts to undermine the law while rhetorically paying lip service to its provisions. We call upon the NDA government to actually ensure respect for forest rights, rather than engaging in cynical eyewash exercises like this new communication.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
आदिवासी मंत्रालय और पर्यावरण व वन मंत्रालय का “संयुक्त वक्तव्य”: वन अधिकार (मान्यता) कानून को कमज़ोर करने की प्रयास ही है
6 जुलाई को, पर्यावरण व वन मंत्रालय और जनजातीय कार्य मंत्रालय ने वन अधिकार अधिनियम के कार्यान्वयन पर सभी राज्य सरकारों को “संयुक्त वक्तव्य” जारी किया। यह “संयुक्त वक्तव्य” जितनी बातें प्रकट करता है उससे कहीं अधिक छुपाता है और हमें चिंता है कि यह वास्तव में इस महत्वपूर्ण कानून को और भी कमजोर कर सकता है। आदिवासी और जंगलवासी संगठनों के राष्ट्रीय मंच के रूप में, हम उन संगठनों से सहमत नहीं हैं जिन्होंने इस वक्तव्य का स्वागत किया है और हम सरकार से यह मांग करते है कि वह सुनिश्चित करे कि सभी नीतियां जंगल में रहने वाले समुदायों के अधिकारों का सम्मान करें और उल्लंघन करने वाले अधिकारियों के खिलाफ कार्रवाई करें।
पृष्ठ्भूमि: जबसे वन अधिकार अधिनियम 2006 पारित हुआ , उस समय से वन विभाग के अधिकारियों उसको कमज़ोर करने की प्रयास में रहे हैं। जबसे NDA सरकार आयी है तबसे यह हमला कहीं अधिक तीव्र हो गया है। सरकार सुप्रीम कोर्ट में इस कानून की वचाव गंभीर रूप से नहीं की जिसकी वजह से फरवरी 2019 में सुप्रीम कोर्ट द्वारा एक आदेश जारी हुआ जिसके परिणामस्वरूप लाखों परिवारों को बेदखल कर दिया गया होता। आदिवासियों और अन्य जंगलवासियो के राष्ट्रव्यापी विरोध के बाद सरकार ने न्यायालय को अपने आदेश पर रोक लगाने में सफलता हासिल की, लेकिन तबसे सरकार ने उस मामले में या कानून के कार्यान्वयन और अधिकारों की मान्यता सुनिश्चित करने के लिए कुछ भी नहीं किया है। इसके बजाय, अधिकांश प्रमुख राज्यों में, इस कानून का कार्यान्वयन लगभग शून्य हो गया है – लेकिन केंद्रीय जनजातीय कार्य मंत्रालय ने केवल अस्वीकृत दावों की समीक्षा पर ध्यान केंद्रित किया है। इस बीच, पर्यावरण मंत्रालय उन नीतियों को आगे बढ़ा रहा है और लागू कर रहा है जो वन अधिकार अधिनियम की अनदेखा करते हैं या सीधे उल्लंघन करते हैं, जिसमें क्षतिपूर्ति वनीकरण निधि अधिनियम (2016) पारित करना शामिल है जो वन अधिकारों को ले कर एक शब्द भी नही कहता ।
2019 में भारतीय वन कानून,2007 को और जनविरोधी-दमनकारी बनाने की मनसा से संशोधन हेतु प्रस्ताव करना, बार-बार वनों को वनीकरण के लिए निजी कंपनियों को सौंपना , वनीकरण के नाम पर आदिवासियों और अन्य जंगलवासियों द्वारा उपयोग की जाने वाली ज़मीन तथा खेती की जानेवाली ज़मीन पर ज़बरन पेड़ लगाना, इत्यादि। बार-बार, कानून की स्पष्ट अंदेशा के बावजूद , ‘विकास परियोजनाओं’ और निजी कंपनियों के लिए जंगलों को डाइवर्ट करने से पहले वन समुदायों की सहमति का अनिवार्यता को पर्यावरण मंत्रालय ने उलंघन किया है और हजारों हेक्टेयर भूमि को परियोजनाओं के लिए सौंप दिया है। हाल ही में, राष्ट्रीय लॉकडौन के दौरान वन डायवर्जन के लिए सौ से अधिक परियोजनाओं को स्वीकृति दी गयी थी – ऐसे समय में जब वन अधिकारियों के पास आदिवासियों और जंगलवासियों के ग्राम सभाओं की सहमति लेने का कोई तरीका नहीं था, जैसा कि कानून द्वारा आवश्यक था।
उदासीनता और अवैधता के इस घृणित गठजोड़ के बीच नया ‘संयुक्त वक्तव्य ‘ आया है। पहली नज़र में यह सालों की खामोशी के बाद एक योग्य बदलाव जैसा लगता है। लेकिन यह शुरुवात में ही घोषणा करता है कि “वन अधिकार कानून के कानूनी ढांचे के संबंध में कोई टकराव नहीं रही है” (पैरा 3) – एक बयान जो तथ्यो से बिलकुल परे है।
संयुक्त वक्तव्य वास्तव में तीन महत्वपूर्ण तरीकों से वन अधिकारों को कमजोर कर सकता है:
– सामुदायिक वन प्रबंधन: – सदियों से वन -अतिक्रमणकारी मानेजानेवाले आदिवासी और जंगलवासियों को पहली बार वन अधिकार अधिनियम वनों की रक्षा और प्रबंधन का कानूनी अधिकार से सशक्त करता है । यह अधिकार एक कानूनी अधिकार है जो किसी वन विभाग द्वारा नियंत्रित व्यवस्था का स्थान लेता है। लेकिन इसकी अमल बहुत कम क्षेत्रों में हुई है, और अब नया संयुक्त वक्तव्य कहता है कि वन अधिकारियों को योजना तैयार करने में ग्राम सभाओं की “सहायता” करनी चाहिए और संयुक्त वन प्रबंधन – जो पूरी तरह से वन विभाग का नियंत्रित योजना है, उससे हुई “लाभों का उपयोग” किया जाना चाहिए। (पैराग्राफ 6)। इससे भी अधिक चिंताजनक बात है जिन बातों को संयुक्त वक्तव्य छिपा देता है: अधिनियम, नियमों और यहां तक कि जनजातीय कार्य मंत्रालय के दिशानिर्देशों के अनुसार, वन संरक्षण के लिए ग्राम सभा द्वारा किए गए निर्णय और योजनाएं वन विभाग द्वारा नियंत्रित संयुक्त वन प्रबंधन कार्यक्रम का स्थान लेगी जो वन अधिकारियों पर तथा अन्य संस्थानों पर बाध्यकारी होंगी । इसलिए ये पैराग्राफ वन अधिकारियों के लिए एक बार फिर से अपने फरमानों को लागू करने का प्रयास करने का लाइसेंस बन सकता है ।
– लघु वनोपज : आदिवासियों और जंगलवासियों के लिए आय के केंद्रीय स्रोतों में से एक, लघु वनोपज, अधिनियम के अनुसार, स्थानीय समुदायों की संपत्ति है। अधिकांश प्रमुख राज्यों ने इस प्रावधान को नजरअंदाज किया है और वन विभाग के अधिकारियों को लघु वनोपज पर एकाधिकार की अनुमति देना जारी रखा है। यह संयुक्त वक्तव्य परोक्ष रूप से राज्य वन विभागों का निरंकुश अधिकार को और संवृद्ध करते हुए (पैरा 8 (i)) वनोपज मूल्य -श्रृंखला वृद्धि के लिए परियोजनाओं को शुरू करने का निर्देश देकर इस प्रथा को मजबूत करता है।
– वन विभाग को नीति निर्धारण में वापस लाना: अधिनियम कहता है कि जनजातीय कार्य मंत्रालय वन अधिकारों पर दिशा-निर्देश जारी करने के लिए नोडल एजेंसी होगी, और वास्तव में अधिनियम के पारित होने के समय केंद्र सरकार अपनी बिज़नेस-रूल्स (विभागों की ज़िम्मेदारी )को संशोधित किया था ।वन अधिकारों संवंधित कार्य को जनजातीय कार्य मंत्रालय का अधिकार क्षेत्र में लाया था। यह जानबूझकर किया गया था ताकि यह सुनिश्चित किया जा सके कि वन अधिकारी कानून को हाईजैक करने का प्रयास न करें। लेकिन नया संयुक्त वक्तव्य कहता है कि राज्य सरकारों को केंद्र सरकार से वन-अधिकार संवंधित कोई स्पष्टीकरण मांगे जाएंगे तब पर्यावरण व वन मंत्रालय और जनजाति मंत्रालय दोनों मिलकर निर्देशित करेंगे। इस तरह केंद्र सरकार के तरफ से वन विभाग के लिए कानून का कार्यान्वयन को नियंत्रित करने के लिए एक चोर दरवाजा खुल गया, जब की कानून स्वयं विशेष रूप से उन्हें उस भूमिका से इनकार करता है।
इस नए संयुक्त वक्तव्य में, वन अधिकारों के लिए एक कदम आगे बढ़ने के बजाय, कानून को कमजोर करने के प्रयासों की लम्बी कड़ी में एक और पड़ाव के रूप में प्रतीत होता है ।
हम केंद्र सरकार से मांग करते हैं कि वह वास्तव में वन अधिकारों के लिए निष्ठा के साथ कार्यान्वयन करें ,न कि इस नए वक्तव्य जैसे झूठा प्रयास करें।
इज्जत से जीने का अधिकार अभियान
Is the Tribal Ministry Trying to Sabotage Community Forest Rights Again?
Since the passage of the Forest Rights Act in 2006, powerful forces – forest officials in particular – have been doing their best to sabotage the rights of tribals and forest dwellers. Under the Modi government this sabotage has been reaching new heights, including trying to bypass the law by instituting parallel regimes, undercutting the law in the Supreme Court and facilitating grabbing of tribals’ resources. Now the Ministry of Tribal Affairs seems to be at it again.
Among the most powerful provisions of the Forest Rights Act is its recognition of forest dwellers’ right to manage, protect and conserve their “community forest resources” (CFR). This was the first time in Indian history that ordinary citizens have been given a legal power to protect the environment. Moreover, under the law, in every village where there are forest dwellers, under the law, it is mandatory to record and recognise community forest resource rights. But in spite of this legal provision, in most of the country, CFR rights have not been recognised. A 2015 analysis found that only 1.2 percent of the potential CFR areas in the country had been recognised – and the situation has hardly changed since.
As far back as April 2015, the Ministry had issued binding directions to all authorities on CFRs. These guidelines mandated that CFRs should be recorded as a new category of forests, that villages had the right to make their own plans in their own formats and to access funds for the same, and even provided that state governments could approach the Ministry for funds if required for this purpose.
Perhaps precisely because they were so comprehensive, these guidelines were never implemented. Now, in 2020, instead of asking why its own binding orders were ignored, the Ministry set up another committee in February to “examine and recommend model guidelines for conservation,management and sustainable use of community forest resources (CFR Guidelines) under FRA.” This 15 member committee, chaired by Dr NC Saxena, also has forest officials among its members.
At best this is an exercise in bureaucratic wheel spinning. At worst, it is an attempt to sabotage this powerful provision by introducing procedural requirements that will make it impossible for communities to actually manage their forests. In either case, it is a betrayal of tribals and forest dwellers.
Hence we call upon the Ministry to:
(a) scrap this committee;
(b) list out all habitations in the country where FRA is applicable;
(c) organise records of the forests including maps and data, and hand them over to the concerned Gram Sabhas as per the Rules;
(d) ensure that all the eligible habitations are provided the necessary training and tools to generate and process CFR claims, also as required by the Rules;
(d) to direct state governments to constitute CFR management committee and operationalise CFR management on the basis of the 2015 guidelines.
Is BJP Govt Setting Up Millions of Tribals and Forest Dwellers for Eviction Again?
In February 2019, following two years of silence by the Central Government in a case against the Forest Rights Act, the Supreme Court issued orders for over a million tribals and forest dwellers to be evicted from their lands. The court directed that all those whose claims for rights under the Forest Rights Act had been rejected should be evicted.
After tens of thousands of people protested across the country, the Central Government finally opened its mouth in court and said what it should have said long before – that most of the rejections were illegal and the result of abuse of power by forest officials. The State governments came back to court and said they were willing to review the rejections. Now, several months later, the Tribal Ministry is holding a meeting – but only to look at “progress made by states in this regard” (letter here).
So, is the Modi government getting ready to again turn its back on the rights of forest dwellers?
The issue was never about rejected claims alone – this case is about the constitutionality of the Forest Rights Act. The petitioners had earlier said this entire act is unconstitutional – but they now want to evict millions of people from their lands on the basis of the procedure laid out in this very Act. Moreover, rejection is not a reason for eviction in itself. The only reason that the petitioners have been able to get away with this is that no one from the government opposed them in court for years (in cases on the constitutionality of a legislation, courts look to the government to respond). Is the Central government again planning to not say anything about this in court?
Further, all of this has meant that instead of building on the conservation potential of India’s first law to recognise a clear statutory right to conserve, both the government and the court are now entirely focused on reviewing and rejecting claims. In most major forested states, progress on recognising the rights of communities to conserve and protect their forests has slowed to almost zero. Indeed the Act is barely being implemented at all since February 2019 – when barely ten percent of rights have been recognised till date. Meanwhile the so-called reviews have often consisted of simply reiterating the illegal rejections.
But none of this features in the Ministry’s plan at all. All of this indicates that, at best, this government is still planning to treat this case with indifference. At worst, it is trying to destroy the Forest Rights Act through the back door. We condemn this and the struggle continues.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Tribals, Forest Dwellers Across India Take to the Streets Against BJP Govt’s Attack on Their Rights
Yesterday, today and tomorrow, mass protests are being held across India against the BJP government at the Centre’s moves to attack the rights of tribals and forest dwellers. Tens of thousands of people are protesting in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Nagar Haveli, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand against the government’s steps, including:
- Encouraging illegal acts by forest officials, including illegally diverting forest land and denying people rights. Instead of recognising rights, the government proposed an amendment to the Indian Forest Act that would allow forest officials to arrest, raid and search without warrant, confiscate property, extinguish people’s rights by just paying cash, and shoot and kill forest dwellers while facing nothing more than an enquiry. For six months this anti-people proposal was allowed to stand and was only withdrawn two days ago.
- The government has remained silent in the Supreme Court, allowing a case based on lies and misleading propaganda against the Forest Rights Act to go unchallenged and eventually leading the Court to direct the eviction of millions of families.
The following protests are taking place:
- Madhya Pradesh – a month long Adivasi Hunkar Yatra, organised by a cross-party and cross-organisation coalition, staged a huge mass protest in Bhopal with thousands of people.
- Chhattisgarh – week long padyatras from multiple districts in the state are reaching Raipur and will be holding a mass rally tomorrow.
- Odisha – starting tomorrow, hundreds of people will be joining a dharna in Bhubaneshwar, with people from southern districts joining on the 18th, from northern districts on the 19th, and from western districts on Wednesday.
- Rajasthan – following on a series of rallies and dharnas, several thousand people protested in front of the Tribal Commissioner’s office in Udaipur.
- Tamil Nadu – A protest will be held in Kanyakumari district headquarters tomorrow, and a bandh is being called in the Nilgiris tomorrow with a dharna and hunger strike the day after.
- Dadra and Nagar Haveli – A mass protest was held in the capital yesterday.
- Uttarakhand – A joint press conference by the state’s social movements and opposition parties will be held tomorrow in Dehradun, and a date for a protest announced.
- Gujarat – A cross organisation delegation convened by Adivasi Mahasabha will be raising demands before the Tribal Commissioner tomorrow.
On the 21st, the cross-party and cross-organisation coalition Bhumi Adhikar Andolan will be holding a mass rally in Delhi with several thousand people expected to participate.
Since protests in Jharkhand are difficult to organise with the model code of conduct in force, a mass rally on these demands was already held on October 12th in Ranchi. Mass protests in Thane and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra had to be cancelled due to rains.
Photos can be found below.
A Victory for Tribals and Forest Dwellers – Govt Withdraws Indian Forest Act Amendments
In a press conference today, Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar announced that the government is withdrawing its proposal to bring draconian amendments to the Indian Forest Act. The proposed amendments would have made forest officials the most powerful officials in the country, with the power to arrest, raid, seize and shoot to kill without facing any accountability – powers that even the security forces do not enjoy in disturbed areas.
We welcome this withdrawal, which follows on nationwide protests and condemnation across the political spectrum, and which has clearly been done to avoid the mass protests planned across the country and in Delhi as well as to avoid negative fallout in the Jharkhand elections.
We note that the Minister’s statement is deeply misleading in several respects. The Minister claimed that the proposed amendments were merely a “draft” that resulted from a “study”, but in fact the letter sent to State governments on March 7th clearly stated that this was a proposal for legislation (you can see a copy here) and the Minister himself stated the same in this reply to a starred question in Parliament on June 28th. In the same reply he also misled Parliament by stating that the draft would be “in addition” to the rights recognised by the Forest Rights Act, though in fact it would have negated those rights.
We note that the Minister’s announcement today is meaningless until the Ministry issues a written notification withdrawing this draft. The protests on the 17th, which were on other issues as well as this, will continue as planned.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
On Nov 17th, Protests Planned Across Country Against Attack on the Rights of Tribals and Forest Dwellers
आर पार को हैं तैयार, ले कर रहेंगे वन अधिकार!
सरकार द्वारा आदिवासियों और जंगलवासियों के अधिकारों पर नीतिगत हमले के विरुद्ध में देश भर आंदोलन
कल दिनांक 25 सितम्बर को “इज्जत से जीने का अधिकार अभियान” ने एलान किया कि आगामी 17 नवंबर 2019 को देश भर के राज्य की राजधानियों और अन्य शहरों में केंद्र सरकार की आदिवासी और अन्य परम्परागत वन निवासियों के खिलाफ बनाई जा रही जन विरोधी नीतियों के खिलाफ जुलुस निकाला जायेगा। उल्लेखनीय है कि “इज्जत से जीने का अधिकार अभियान” आदिवासियों और जंगलवासियों का एक राष्ट्रीय मंच है। अभियान से जुड़े हुए संगठनों के द्वारा कम से कम सात राज्य के शहरों में जुलुस निकाले जाएंगे और अन्य राज्यों में भी तैयारी चल रही है।
2019 में केंद्र की सत्ताधारी पार्टी भाजपा ने दो बड़े नीतिगत कदम उठाये है जिससे 10 करोड़ से ज्यादा जंगल में रहनेवाले आदिवासियों और अन्य जंगलवासियों के परंपरा गत हक़ खतरे में आ गए हैं। अंग्रेज़ों के ज़माने से आज तक किसी भी सरकार ने वन अधिकार पर इतनी व्यापक हमला नहीं किया है जितना भाजपा सरकार करना चाह रही है।
* 10 मार्च 2019 को केंद्र सरकार ने सभी राज्य सरकारों को एक पत्र द्वारा भारतीय वन कानून में संशोधन करने के लिए एक प्रस्ताव भेजा था। इस प्रस्ताव के अनुसार वन विभाग को अधिकार दिया जायेगा कि वे वन रक्षा के नाम पर गोली चला सकते हैं और अगर वे स्पष्ट करते हैं कि गोली कानून के अनुसार चलाई गयी है तो उनके ऊपर कोई कार्यवाही नहीं होगी (धारा 66 (2))। अगर प्रस्तावित संशोधन कानून बन जायेगा तो वन विभाग के कर्मचारी किसी भी आदिवासी या जंगलवासी का अधिकार पैसे दे कर खतम कर सकेंगे (22A(2), 30(b)), बिना वारंट गिरफ्तार या छापे मार सकेंगे, और किसी भी आदिवासी या जंगलवासी की सम्पति को जब्त कर सकेंगे। अगर वन विभाग किसी व्यक्ति पर आरोप लगाएगा और कहेगा कि उसके पास आपराधिक सामान था तो ऐसी दशा में उस व्यक्ति को खुद साबित करना पड़ेगा कि वह निर्दोष है। अगर यह प्रस्ताव कानून बन जाएगा तो, कानून का राज जंगलों में से खत्तम हो जायेगा। रेंजर या DFO के कहने पर किसी को भी पकड़ा जा सकेगा या गोली भी मारी जा सकेगी। जंगल में रहनेवाले लोगों के कोई भी हक़ नहीं बचेंगे। हमारा शक है कि इस संशोधन जंगल वासियों को हटाकर वन क्षेत्र निजी कंपनियों को अपार मुनाफा कमाने के लिए सौंपा जाने की योजना है।
* 2017 से फरवरी 2019 तक केंद्र सरकार सुप्रीम कोर्ट में वन अधिकार कानून के खिलाफ चल रही याचिका में खामोश रही, जिससे कोर्ट में याचिका कर्ताओं के झूठ का जवाब देने के लिए कोई भी आवाज़ नहीं उठाया गई, जिसकी वजह से विगत 13 फरवरी को कोर्ट ने लाखों परिवारों की बेदखली करने को आदेश दिया मगर देश भर आंदोलन होने के बाद सरकार कोर्ट में फिर से जाने के लिए मज़बूर हुई तब भी उन्होंने न्यायपीठ से यह माँग नहीं की कि उक्त आदेश वापस लिया जाये। सरकार ने सिर्फ माँगा कि आदेश को कुछ समय के लिए स्थगित किया जाये। आज तक आदेश स्थगित अथवा पेंडिंग में है और लटकती तलवार के रूप में देश के आदिवासियों के सर के ऊपर आज भी खड़ा है। 12 सितम्बर को फिर से इस याचिका में सुनवाई हुई थी और केंद्र सरकार फिर से गैर हाजिर रही। याद रखने की बात है कि कोई भी प्रदेश में वन अधिकार कानून का सही कार्यान्वयन नही हुआ है।
भोपाल, रायपुर, मुंबई, गढ़चिरोली, भुबनेश्वर, उदयपुर, देहरादून, गांधीनगर और अन्य शहरों में प्रदर्शन किया जायेगा। 21 नवंबर को भूमि-वन अधिकार आंदोलन का बैनर तले दिल्ली में भी एक बड़ा प्रदर्शन होगा।
Protests Planned Across Country Against Attack on the Rights of Tribals and Forest Dwellers
Following a two day national meeting, the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national platform of tribal and forest dwellers, today gave a call for national protests in state capitals and other cities on November 17th, 2019. Protests are already confirmed in several States and tens of thousands of people are expected to join.
The BJP government at the Centre has taken two steps this year that would crush the rights of the more than 10 crore tribals and forest dwellers who live in forests:
- Proposed an amendment to the Indian Forest Act that would allow forest officials to arrest without warrant, raid and search without warrant, confiscate property, extinguish people’s rights by just paying cash, and shoot and kill forest dwellers while facing nothing more than an enquiry. Confessions to a forest officer will be admissible as evidence in court – something that is not true even under ‘anti-terror’ laws – and in many cases the burden will be on the person to prove themselves innocent. If this becomes law, any tribal or forest dweller in the country can by law be arrested, deprived of their rights, or even killed by forest officials on the basis of suspicion alone.
- The government also remained silent in the Supreme Court, allowing a case based on lies and misleading propaganda to go unchallenged and eventually leading the Court to direct the eviction of millions of families. In the most recent hearing of the case, even after knowing that this case affects more than 10 crore people, the Centre was absent again.
Today crores of forest dwellers are at risk of losing all their rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. If the Indian Forest Act goes through, forest dwellers will have less rights than they did under the British. Forests would be converted into a kind of Special Economic Zone where all rights are subject to the whims of forest officials, who will have more power than soldiers in disturbed areas.
Protests will take place in state capitals and other cities on November 17th, including Bhopal, Raipur, Mumbai, Bhubaneshwar, Gadchiroli, Dehradun, Udaipur, and Gandhinagar. On November 21st, under the banner of the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, a national alliance, a rally is expected to take place in Delhi as well.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Centre Fails to Appear Again, Supreme Court Hears Case on Forest Rights Act
The Central government failed to argue in defense of the Forest Rights Act in the Supreme Court again today. The Court heard arguments in the case against the Forest Rights Act, in which millions of people have been threatened with eviction (see here for a brief explainer on this law and this case). The Court asked where the Central government was and was told the Solicitor General was not present. The Court then heard the matter, allowed all the requests for impleadment by a large number of organisations defending the Forest Rights Act, and also allowed the petitioners’ request to make the Forest Survey of India a party (see below). The Court also said its order putting evictions of rejected claimants on hold will continue, and the matter will now next be heard on November 26th for final arguments.
Observing in court that “it is we [urban and elite citizens] who have destroyed forests in places like Pachmarhi”, the Bench declined the effort of the petitioners to make the situation seem like an emergency, and granted four weeks’ time to the State governments and to other parties to supply data (see below) and to reply. Several other things happened today:
- Several adivasi and forest dweller organisations, as well as senior academics and conservationists, had applied to be heard in defense of the Forest Rights Act. They were allowed to implead/intervene in the case.
- One of the key petitioners – the Wildlife Trust of India, lead petitioner in the earliest case before the Court against this law – applied to withdraw from the case (the Court heard it but hasn’t passed an order as yet).
- The Court issued notice on the recent applications of the petitioners to stop State governments from reviewing rejections of claims under the law, and to direct the Central government to release funds for the Forest Survey of India to conduct its survey using money from compensatory afforestation funds (see here for more on this). The Court will hear arguments on these applications later, after State governments, other organisations and the Central government reply.
- The Court clarified that its “interim orders will continue” (this is the order dated 28.2.2019 under which evictions of rejected claimants have been put on hold).
- The Court clarified that the Forest Survey of India’s survey of forest ‘encroachment’, using data from States, will continue, based on the petitioners’ claim that satellite imagery can be used to verify claims under the Act (see here for why this is a bad idea). The petitioners sought to have the Forest Survey of India added as a party, and this was also allowed by the Court.
- The Court finally said that in the next hearing it will start hearing arguments on all issues, including the constitutional validity of the Act – which is what this case was supposedly about in the first place, see here for a summary – and procedures under the law.
Since February 2019, millions of tribals and forest dwellers whose claims for rights under this law have been rejected have been living in fear of eviction (to understand this law and the case, please see this explainer). These cases, filed by a small group of wildlife NGOs and many retired forest officials, were originally filed on the basis that this law is not constitutional. Over the years, the petitioners then sought to claim that the very procedure that they had claimed was unconstitutional should now be used as the basis for evicting people. From 2016 to February 2019, the Central government remained silent in the matter, and the Court was given only the petitioners’ version, resulting in an order in February to evict all rejected claimants. After nationwide protests, the Centre finally argued in court and that order was put on hold.
We are pleased to see that the Court has not entertained the efforts of this small group of wildlife NGOs – who are not even supported by the vast majority of conservationists – to keep on trying to claim that there is some emergency related to forest destruction or that people should be evicted. Instead the Court has now said that it will hear arguments on the constitutional validity of the Act and that it will give a chance for others to be heard. The Central government’s continued apathy and silence in the face of this attack on the rights of millions of people, however, is deeply disturbing.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Tomorrow, SC Will Hear New Applications in Anti Forest Rights Case That Again Threaten Rights of Millions
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case against the Forest Rights Act tomorrow, September 12th (see here for a brief explainer about the Act and the case). The petitioners have filed new applications in this case that could again result in millions of people being denied their rights.
The key question tomorrow will be – will the Central government oppose these applications and defend the FRA? Or will it again choose to just argue on technicalities?
In three new applications before the Court, the petitioners are again seeking to turn the focus of their case away from the constitutionality of the law and on to new subjects which have nothing to do with their original petition. The two main applications are here and here, but relevant paras are linked below. They want the Court to:
- Stop State governments from reviewing illegal rejections of claims by forest dwellers (see para 9 here). They also want to stop acceptance of claims for rights (see para 10 here). This at a time when the Supreme Court was just about to being considering how States have violated the law. The petitioners clearly don’t want this. Most States have admitted that the process undertaken for rejection of claims for rights was largely illegal. Not only that, the law provides no time limit for filing of claims for rights (contrary to what the petitioners say), given that the affected people are oppressed, marginalised and often non-literate.
- Ask the Forest Survey of India to survey all forest destruction in the country (see paras 6 and 7 here). The aim, presumably, is to hold forest dwellers responsible for this, when the government itself has been illegally diverting forest land en masse. In fact, satellite imagery is not a deciding factor for claims under this Act – it is legally untenable, impossible to use without ground truthing, irrelevant to most rights under the Act, and can be misleading when people grow tree crops or trees are planted illegally on their land.
- Implead the Forest Survey of India as a party. The petitioners have gone from being supposedly against the constitutionality of the Act; to assuming that the Act is constitutional and asking for decisions under it to be used to evict people; and now they want to make this a case about using satellite images to examine supposed “encroachment.”
The only reason they have gotten away with all this so far is because of the silence of the Central government. Back in February, the Court had passed orders that would have resulted in the eviction of at least nine million people. These orders were subsequently put “on hold” after nationwide protests resulted in the Central government asking the Court to do so.
Till date, the Central government has never asked the Court to withdraw these orders. It has instead only seemed to be wanting to buy time. Will it oppose these new applications?
Again, to know more about this case and the background to it and the Act, see our explainer here.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity