Forest dwelling people from across the country demand implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006

Several protesters said that forest officials were destroying their homes and farms to force them to leave their natural habitat despite a stay on a SC order to evict them

Forest dwelling people from across the country demand implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006

NH Web Desk

To ensure that their voice is heard in the capital of the country, Adivasis and people who depend on forests from across the country protested at Jantar Mantar to demand implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006. The protest comes just days before the Supreme Court hears a matter relating to the issue, whose next date of hearing is on November 26, 2019.

The Supreme Court has stated that state forest departments cannot take eviction proceedings and create any sort of turmoil in forest areas inhabited by Adivasis and those who live off the forests. However, several of the protestors who came to Delhi stated that the officials have been destroying their homes and farms to force them to leave their natural habitat.

People have come from Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu under the banner of CPI(M) affiliated All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).

Despite the presence of more than 1,500 people in the Capital, the Rajya Sabha refused to take cognisance of the matter though CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP KK Ragesh had given a notice to suspend business on Thursday, November 21. In his notice, Ragesh had requested the House to take note of the genuine demand of the rights of almost 20 crore people under Forest Rights Act 2006. “However, the Rajya Sabha chairperson has not allowed us to raise the issue of so many people. It is important for all of us to stand together,” said CPI (M) MP Elamaram Kareem.

“We have come from Gaya. We cultivate around 1.8 acre near the forest. Several of us have come from there because we routinely face harassment from officials. They send notices and attack our people because they want us to leave from there. We cultivate rice, corn, wheat and some vegetables in that area. This is our livelihood. Will they drive us out from where we have lived for centuries,” asks 70-year-old Nandi Bai.

Older than her is 85-year-old Kantha bai, who has come from near Indore. “We also live near the forest. We are considered to be encroachers. How can they do that when that has been our home. I don’t know another home. I have come here to secure the lives of my grandchildren,” pointed out the feisty Kantha.

Tribals from Kerala affiliated to pro-CPM Adivasi Kshema Samiti (AKS) are also here in the Capital. “A group of tribal families have already encroached forest land at a few places, but everyone hasn’t. The government must give land to all those tribals who have been forcefully displaced too. They have to be given their land registration documents as well. The issue is the forest land is still under Central government, so the state revenue department can’t do much. We want the revenue department to have authority to distribute land as well,” explained A Paithal, who is from Wayanad.

His colleague RK Suneesh said that forest dwellers must be given their rights and they have been fighting for their land for long.

According to the 2011 census, Adivasis constitute 18.5% of the total population in Wayanad district, which has the largest tribal population in Kerala.

The contingent form Andhra Pradesh was the most distressed as they said the state government was not willing to even give them a hearing. For 38-year-old Lakshmi from Paderu, near Visakhapatanam, it was a question of her roots. “My parents live near the forest here. If they are evicted, what will happen to my roots? If my roots are removed, I’ll be a person from nowhere,” she lamented.

Along with these protestors were the employees of the All India Scheduled Tribe Employees Association. “In addition to our rights on forest land, we want the government to allot sufficient funds for development of tribals, implementation of MSME/MUDRA schemes to those in tribal areas and also strengthening of primary health care systems in tribal areas,” insisted D Sathyanarayana, who came from Visakhapatanam.

“We also want them to increase the number of students admitted to Navodaya Schools in the district centre. It will help poor tribal students,” added O Kumar.

The Supreme Court on February 13, 2019 had asked States to evict people whose claims to forest land have been rejected by them. The order was stayed based on a petition filed by the Central government as a result of severe backlash. If the stay order gets vacated, more than one million people will be affected immediately.

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