ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tribal Rights: Promises and reality

Last week, the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights released a fact-finding report on the July 14 police lathi charge on adivasis from Maharashtra’s Dhule district who were protesting against the leasing of forest land to the wind power company, Suzlon Energy. While 127.94 hectares of this tribal-dominated and densely forested district have been leased to the company, which is among the global top 10 in the wind power sector, approval has been sought for another 212.52 hectares.

Last week, the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights released a fact-finding report on the July 14 police lathi charge on adivasis from Maharashtra’s Dhule district who were protesting against the leasing of forest land to the wind power company, Suzlon Energy. While 127.94 hectares of this tribal-dominated and densely forested district have been leased to the company, which is among the global top 10 in the wind power sector, approval has been sought for another 212.52 hectares. On August 31, tribal farmers in the Dang forest of Gujarat were beaten up by forest officials and had to be hospitalised for “encroaching” on forest land. Both these incidents of state violence against the tribals have occurred after the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 was passed by Parliament in December 2006.

Ironically, Maharashtra has an array of legislation and rules to protect tribal rights, some dating as far back as 1974, while in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who has been publicising the Van Bandhu (forest brethren) package is threatening to start a satyagraha from October 2 if tilled lands are not delivered to tribals. (The Modi-led movement in Gujarat must be seen in the context of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad assiduously wooing the adivasis of the state.) Maharashtra’s forest minister has now asked for a complete survey of all “encroachments” in Dhule to be completed by September 11. The rules under the Forest Rights Act have not yet been framed in many states and tribal organisations find that they are in for another battle to ensure its implementation. The Act gives tribals living in the forests for three generations the right to cultivate four hectares of land and access to minor forest produce, traditional seasonal resources and grazing rights.

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