August 04, 2019

Adivasis Protest against FRA Amendment Bill

MILLIONS of adivasis held hundreds of nation-wide protests against the shoddy implementation of the existing Forest Rights Act (FRA) and demanded that the Forest Rights Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019 be withdrawn immediately, after the introduction of the amendment bill on February 13.

Under the banner of ‘Bhumi Adhikar Andolan’, adivasis submitted memorandums to the prime minister and chief ministers of various states and said that the amendment bill will throw millions of adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers out of their lands and destroy their traditional farm lands. 

Owing to the spurt of protests, the Supreme Court amended and stayed the bill till July 10. However, the forest department is using the amendment and pushing people out of their lands and destroying their farmlands. The FRA was enacted in 2006 to undo the historical injustice against forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest-dwelling communities by recognising their pre-existing rights over forest land and community forest resources. However, today, the FRA is confronted among others, with two serious challenges that undo the letter and spirit of the Act. These include the recent SC order on forest evictions and the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927, involving powers to extinguish and abrogate forest rights, creation of private ‘production forests’, and giving authority to police and semi-judicial powers to the forest department, with immunity against atrocities and sexual violence.  

Over the past five months, protests were held in Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Rajasthan, Kerala, and Uttar Pradesh.

Implementation of the FRA in its true spirit,  to treat all ‘rejected claims’ under FRA as suo moto appeals and to carefully review them at the gram sabha, sub-divisional level committee and district-level committees, are some of the major demands presented by the adivasis in their petitions. 

Making no attempts to evict any tribal household from the forest areas until the review process is completed and to make it a must to issue relevant advisories to all the district collectors and concerned officials on the changes are also stressed upon in the petition, said the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan members. They also sought the immediate suspension of any parallel attempts to amend the Indian Forest Act or formulate new forest policies.

Leaders of the key constituents of Bhumi Adhikar Andolan gathered in New Delhi at the historic Jantar Mantar street, on July 23, to register their discontent ahead of the Supreme Court hearing in July. Addressing the meeting, Hannan Mollah, AIKS general secretary said, protests against eviction of adivasis and forest dwelling communities are happening across the country. This is clearly the result of corporate loot of natural resources and the government’s attempts to facilitate it, which is a direct violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Roma, leader of All India Union of Forest Working People, said the direction of the Supreme Court to evict millions of adivasis is unfortunate.

All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Sangathan leader Jaikara said that there are continuous attempts to illegally occupy land to favour corporate institutions.

Calling the government ‘Manuwadi’ and a ‘pro-capitalist’, Satyavan from All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Sanghathan said that the BJP government will always remain anti-people, which will never support people and will keep supporting the corporates. 

Vijoo Krishnan of AIKS said that the evictions of adivasis is a conspiracy of government and corporates.

Highlighting the massacre in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh, in which 10 adivasis were killed, Mujahid of Minority Coordination Committee said that the incident made it clear that governments will do nothing to stop the oppression of adivasis. He said that in the name of development and greater good, state governments are trying to dilute the FRA, 2006. The sole reason for this is to make it easy for corporates to acquire land and natural resources.

“Jal-Jangal-Zameen belongs to the adivasis of the country, we will fight with any institution which denies our rights. We have faced numerous atrocities and harassment from the forest department, but we know and we understand that the rejection of the claims filed by adivasis is illegal,” said Nawada, Tharu Adivasi Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Sangh, Lakhimpur Khiri.

Many social activists, tribal rights activists and environment activists including Medha Patkar, Jitendra Chaudhary, Roma, Ashok Choudhary, Ulka Mahajan, Atul Anjan, Prafulla Samantara, Brian Lobo, Dr Sunilam, Sanjay Basu Malik, Gautam Bandopadhyay, Aradhna Bhargava, Dayamani Barla and Teesta Setalvad were present at the meeting held in the capital city. 

22 major unions fighting for tribal rights, dalit rights, human rights and workers unions from 16 states across the country have extended their solidarity to the struggle against Forest Rights Act amendments and took part in the state-level, district-level protests.