Bhopal: The incidents of alleged targeting of forest dwellers have seen a sharp jump in the last couple of months in Madhya Pradesh, seemingly in violation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA).
On July 12, the State Forest Department officials demolished mud houses of more than 100 tribal families in Hardi village of Rewa district, declaring it ‘encroachment on forest land’.
The villagers of Hardi number 1 under Gurh panchayat claimed that their houses were razed to the ground without any prior information by the Forest Department in front of them despite the fact that the majority of them possess the land documents.
“The state government had allocated 30x30 sq ft land to many of the villagers in 1990. We have been living here since then; however, the forest officials have demolished my home.” said a resident, Ram Avtar.
“We have been left homeless in the midst of a pandemic, we don’t know what to do,” said another villager, Mukesh.
Many of the villagers said they have claimed possession of the forest land under the FRA and have submitted their application in the newly introduced Van Mitra App.
The Forest Right Act says that those forest dwellers who have been living on the forest land since before 2005 should be declared the owners of that land if they manage to prove it. Besides, Section 4(5) of the Act says that those forest dwellers who have laid stake on the forest lands and whose applications are under review, should not be removed from the place.
A similar incident was reported in Jaganpur Chak of Guna district. On July 14, the district police went to vacate the allegedly encroached land of a Dalit family that had been farming on the land. The man, Rajkumar, and his wife tried to stop the demolition. When the police officials did not stop, Rajkumar and his wife consumed poison.
The police personnel allegedly had brutally assaulted the couple and their children begging for mercy, according to a video that has gone viral on social media. Following this, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan transferred Guna district collector and Superintendent of Police in the late hours of July 15.
Another incident occurred in Amakhujri village of Khandwa district on June 26. In a police complaint, villagers claimed that hundreds of the forest personnel not only ruined their standing crop with the help of a JCB, but also assaulted the landowners.
“The forest personnel not only ruined our crops on acres of land, but also pelted stones and assaulted us,” said a villager, Lakha Singh, in a complaint to the Khandwa police.
Similarly, dozens of forest officials had burned down the mud house of tribals of Siwal village in Burhanpur district last month. The villagers have reported the matter to the Nepa Nagar police station.
Demanding strict action against the forest officials, compensation for illegal demolition and damage to the crops, tribal leader and Congress MLA Hiralal Alawa wrote a letter to CM Chouhan on July 14.
Referring to the Rewa district’s incident, the legislator Alawa said, the forest officials are constantly attacking the homes and farmlands of forest dwellers by sidelining the FRA.
“The recent incident of Harda 1 of Rewa district is unacceptable. Tribals of this village have been living here since 1990; they have proper documents. When the villagers failed to bribe the Forest officials demanding a bribe between Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, they demolished their homes,” he said.
He has also urged the CM to take strict action against the forest officials under SC/ST Atrocities Act, 1989, and provide compensation of Rs 5 lakh to each family.
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