Central Government Illegally Grabbing Forest Land and Displacing Forest Dwellers
Joint Statement of Adivasi and Forest Dwellers' OrganisationsAs organisations of adivasis and forest dwellers, we condemn the Central government's illegal land grabbing of forest land. This has resulted in tens of thousands of people losing everything - their forests, grazing areas, farmlands and sometimes their homes - despite having rights that are protected by law.
The Forest Rights Act recognises the rights of forest dwellers to their lands, minor forest produce, common resources and forests. It also empowers them to protect and manage forests. Despite this the Environment Ministry continues to hand over forest land to projects without bothering with people's rights. In just the last three months, the Forest Advisory Committee of the Environment Ministry recommended diversion of more than 4,166 hectares of forest land for 20 mining, dam and other large projects - in direct violation of the Act. The Committee has even recommended diversion when it was told that forest dwellers have pattas on the land. Between Jan 2008 and August 2011, 1,82,389 hectares of forest land was diverted by the Ministry for projects - and yet, in July 2011, the Central Ministry informed a reporter that it has no information regarding whether the Act was complied with or not.^[Times of India, July 23, 2011] The Ministry has also diverted large areas of land that are protected by other laws, such as community-owned lands in the Northeast that are it arbitrarily treats as "unclassed forest land."
In July 2009, the Environment Ministry finally issued a circular stating that, before any forest land can be taken for a project, the affected gram sabhas have to certify that the rights recognition process is complete and that they consent to the diversion. Yet the Ministry refuses to comply with its own order as well. This ongoing gross illegality is a crime against forest dwellers and the people of this country. We condemn the government's continued brazen defiance of law, and demand that:
- Compliance with the Forest Rights Act and the July 2009 order of the Environment Ministry, as well as other laws that protect community rights over forest lands, must be strictly enforced;
- Prosecution and disciplinary action should be taken against officials who have diverted or tried to divert forest land without respecting people's rights;
- Existing clearances for diversion of forest land should be withheld. They should be canceled if found to violate the provisions of the Act or the July 2009 order. Where projects have already come up, those affected should be rehabilitated as well as granted additional compensation for the criminal violation of their rights.
Com. Chittaranjan Bakshi, Senior Vice President, Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha
Convening Collective, Campaign for Survival and Dignity