The Forest Rights Act

Mass Protests Today for Democracy in the Forests

Protests today in seven States against illegal grabbing of resources, violation of the law.

Protests Across Country Against Illegal Sabotage of FRA and for Democratic Control Over Forests

Responding to a call given by the national meeting of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity in August, protests are being held across the country to demand that the government respect the Forest Rights Act. These include the following protests by Campaign constituent organisations as well as other groups:

· In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, 32 organisations gathered yesterday, September 30th, for a public meeting that condemned the State and Central government's gross violations of the Forest Rights Act.

· In Ranchi, Jharkhand, under the banner of Bharat Jan Andolan, a mass dharna attended by around 500 people is being held today.

 

· In Dahanu, Maharashtra, more than 5000 people have assembled today under the banner of Kashtakari Sanghatna to protest illegalities and demand community forest rights. Similarly, in Thane, Maharashtra, Shramik Mukti Sanghatna has organised a mass protest at which more than 500 people are expected outside the Collector's Office.

 

· In Ahmedabad, Gujarat, more than 700 people held a protest against the violations of the law and illegal grabbing of resources.


· In Dehradun and eleven district headquarters in Uttarakhand, mass protests are being held on October 2nd by a wide coalition of organisations, pursuant to a separate decision taken in a meeting of organisations in the State.  The protests are demanding that the State and Central governments respect the powers of gram sabhas under the Forest Rights Act as well as the powers of local communities under the Constitution.

· In Nuapada, Odisha mass protests are being held today on the issue of violations of the FRA.

Similar protests are being held in other locations. In addition to other demands raised by each protest, the shared main demands of all the protests are:

· An immediate halt to harassment, eviction and attacks on forest dwellers.

· Criminal prosecution of government officials who violate forest rights or who illegally reject and modify people's titles to their rights.

· Immediate recognition of the community rights of all forest dwellers, especially those to community forest resources, as required by law.

· Stop illegal diversion of forest land to companies without the informed consent of the gram sabha and without completion of recognition of rights. Prosecute the officials responsible.

The protest note is below.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

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PROTEST NOTE

The adivasi and other forest dwelling communities across the country condemn the conscious efforts of the administration across the states to frustrate the objectives of the Forest Rights Act and deny them rights that they have been denied since independence. As the Act completes 6 years of implementation, we condemn the deliberate sabotage of our rights to our forested homelands.

We unequivocally condemn the administration’s open assault on the rightful role of the Gram Sabhas to determine the nature and extent of the rights claimed, generally at the behest of the forest department. Even while recognizing the efforts of the Minister for Tribal affairs, we condemn the repeated subversion of the rights and responsibilities of the gram sabha conferred by the law and challenge the Central Government to answer why promises are made but kept unfulfilled, why rights are declared and surreptitiously de-recognized, why the path-breaking Forest Rights Act was passed if there was no intention to implement it.

Across the country, claimants are forced to repeatedly protest the arbitrary and mischievous reduction of the area under occupation claimed for cultivation and livelihoods by the SDLC and DLC committees, without field verification or giving the claimants the opportunity to be heard. We protest the repeated contraventions of numerous principles and precedents of law and jurisprudence which lay down the requirements of legal procedure in the adjudication of rights. We seek to remind the SDLC and DLC committees that they are only empowered to ensure that the process is followed and that justice is not only delivered but is seen to be delivered.

We condemn the delay and the mutilation of community rights recognized by the law which need to be recorded by the administration. While recognizing the merit of individual claims to occupation, we reaffirm that:

· Other than Section 3(1)(a) (f) and (g) of the act, most of the provisions of Section 3(1) concern the recognition of community rights enjoyed by the people by law and long years of access.

· Community access and usufructory rights are distinct from though embedded in the rights to their Community Forest Resource, which in most cases has survived because of community protection and conservation.

· We condemn the mischievous attempts of the administration to reduce community rights to the miniscule diversion of forest land for community facilities provided under Section 3(2). We reject the repeated attempts of the forest administration to circumvent the law, circumscribe its application through nefarious means and frustrate the ends of justice.

· We condemn the travesty of law and justice being perpetrated on the non-ST traditional forest dwellers by denying them the benefit of the rights conferred by the law.

Through our nationwide protests we remind the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Central Government and the state administrations, particularly the forest departments, that only our pre-existing forest rights are being recognized and that they are duty bound to uphold the law in letter and spirit. We warn that we will continue our struggle with all our collective will and resolution till our rights are fully recognized for enjoyment by the present and future generations.

In particular we demand:

· An immediate halt to harassment, eviction and attacks on forest dwellers.

· Criminal prosecution of government officials who violate forest rights or who illegally reject and modify people's titles to their rights.

· Immediate recognition of the community rights of all forest dwellers, especially those to community forest resources, as required by law.

· Stop illegal diversion of forest land to companies without the informed consent of the gram sabha and without completion of recognition of rights. Prosecute the officials responsible.

 
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