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Who speaks for the Adivasi's right to the forests?

Ranchi , Sun, 17 Apr 2011 ANI

Ranchi, Apr 17 (ANI): Much is at stake for the Adivasis in Jharkhand. Inhabitants of a region heavily forested for hundreds of years and rich in mineral and ore deposits, they have lived in close contact with nature, turning to the forest for many of their needs.


That itself has been the basis of the protection of forests, which have remained the wealth of the region. This has been probably the most defining character of not only Adivasis in Jharkhand, but tribal communities across the world.


Adivasis have an inherent right over forest produce and this is implicit in the nature of their traditional relationship with the land and forests. The governing classes have been constrained to recognise it as such from the time of the colonial rulers.


After Independence and the making of a modern nation state, things began to change. The inherent and even unquestionable right of the Adivasis over forestland now began to be questioned.


Indeed, the nature of their link with the forest was now threatened by the new economic and industrial forces, which came into play. This in a nutshell is the root of a conflict between forces industrialisation for an exploitation of the rich natural resources of the region and adivasi way of life, which is based on retaining the forests. What is crucial in such a debate or even conflict is the stand by the government of the land. Whose interest will it protect and to what extent?


Indeed the challenge for any government and policy maker is to evolve a development model, which focuses on the interests of these forest communities yet opens out the potential of the region to forces of modernisation and puts in place a people-centric development.


It is, however, easier said than done. Let us put it in perspective. Jharkhand is governed under the V Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which applies to states having a dominant tribal population.


There exist a slew of measures, of Laws and Acts, inherited from the colonial period, and others passed by Parliament meant to augment, strengthen and protect interests of the adivasi, his link with the land, water and forests.


Of course, these did not come as largesse from an enlightened establishment. Many of these were hard fought battles, which mark a little known history of the adivasis in this eastern region. The Chota Nagpur Tenancy Agricultural Act (CNT) 1908 and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Agricultural law (SPT) 1949 have been a result of such agitation. The CNT expressly states that agricultural land cannot be sold or transferred to a non-adivasi and certainly not for commercial purposes.


Infact both these Acts are singular in their provisions for protection of adivasi lands, traditional self-governance and preservation of culture


The agitation and the issues that it stood for have remained a truism for the region over the last few decades while new political systems have marked history beginning with Independence. More recently in 2000, the formation of new states including Jharkhand carved out of the erstwhile larger ones also signified a change. What did these changes signify for the adivasis?


With priorities of the ruling classes changing, with larger industrial and commercial interests taking predominance, there has been over this period, a gradual but palpable dilution of the commitment towards protection of these forest communities. According to sources, there has been a loss of 22,00,000 acres of land due to breaches in the existing Laws ever since Independence


The ruling classes have unfortunately shown themselves as complicit in the crime. In 2003, a committee was formed to make amendments in CNT and SPT Acts. In a nutshell, the entire effort has been to push the people out from the forestland and make it available for the industrial and commercial lobby eying the land, the forest produce and what lies beneath the ground.


What this government and any government needs to unequivocally do is to ensure that this is protected and the Adivasis have an unfettered rights to the forests, centered around their traditional relationship with the land. Instead, there has been a reversal, a violation of these rights in subsequent measures including through legislation.


The Land Acquisition Act 1894 upholds the supremacy of the sovereign for total colonization of any territory in the name of 'public interest' The 2007 Amendment to this historical Act dealt with the rehabilitation and compensation of communities having traditional rights over lands taken over by the government.The devastation that such measures have wreaked is all too obvious. The Torpa region, 90 km from Jharkhand's capital, Ranchi stretching over about 12,000 acres is home to the Munda Adivasis.


Breathtakingly beautiful, dotted with mountains, forests, rivers and canals, this has been protected by the CNT Act and the community enjoyed control over all collective resources of the land. Now, this land has been marked to be allotted to Mittal Steel in sheer violation of not only the spirit, but the letter of the Acts that are in place.


The area marked is not only forestland but fertile. According to the CNTAct, such a transfer requires the express consent of the Gram Sabha. These are not isolated cases. Across its pristine landscape, tribals are getting displaced due to various developmental projects. Baitala's Munda Adivasi are displaced by HEC. The Adivasi of Barwadih, Manika, Vishnupur, Satbarwa forest region are struggling for resettlement.


Meanwhile the plunder continues. According to Munsawar, a villager: "Baitala region was once very rich. But the mafia has cleared the forests, the forests department doesn't take any action against the mafia, but when the local people cut wood or take forest produces for their routine use, they are sent to jail. People are unaware of their rights on the forest as the Right on the Forest Act is not properly publicised here."


The powers that be are playing for very high stakes in Jharkhand. The communities most vulnerable to this onslaught are clearly the ones, who will lose not only the physical access to land but see the destruction of a way of life which has sustained them for generations.


Not that they are giving in without a fight. The Bhumi Raksha Morcha has started a movement covering 44 villages, which are threatened by such displacement. Such movements will need to be augmented and supported by all those who believe development models need to fine-tuned to the intrinsic and organic needs of a settled community and not the other way round.


Writing for Charkha Development Communications, the author feels the government should protect the rights of Adivasis and ensure they have unfettered rights to the forests, centered around their traditional relationship with the land. By Aloka Kujur(ANI)


Read More: Nagpur | Barwadih | Manika | Satbarwa | Law | Kuju | Torpa | Raksha

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