Five tribal families are struggling for recognition of their claims on land from the forest department in Korba, Chhattisgarh, amid blatant attempts for eviction.
The tribal families, which belong to the forest-dwelling Kanwar community, lost their land, their food crops and their homes in the Udta region of Korba district. This, despite being granted their land claims.
Udta is considered to be the oldest and largest village in this district; the community says it has inhabited the land for the past 300 years, cultivating vegetables and fruit such as amla, lemons, mangoes and even wheat; the tribal community had even built a well.
Ratan Singh, the head of a tribal family who has been evicted, claims that he has been forcibly evicted even after receiving a forest rights claim. Other farmers, including Mansingh Kanwar and Hem Singh, said that they had the right for a lease under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, and that the Gram Panchayat had also passed a resolution in their favour as far back as 2009.
Farmer stands inside the fenced area
Speaking to NewsClick, Mansingh Kanwar from Udta, said: “Our land, alongside that of four other farmers, has been taken away forcibly by the forest department despite one of us even having forest rights; our houses were razed to the ground and we have been forced to go find ourselves other accommodations. The important thing is that this is our livelihood, these are the fields we come to for grazing, for resources and livestock. Now, with a fence in place, we cannot access our food sources.”
Over 15 acres of tribal land was cleared out and fenced by the forest department in July, after which the tribal agitation has intensified in the area and gaining fresh momentum recently.
A memorandum was given to the Korba district administration this week to restore tribal rights and give back their homes. A ten-day ultimatum has been sent to the forest department, with tribal farmers from twenty to forty villages announcing that they will be marching to Udta to ensure that they lay claim to their land.
Speaking to NewsClick, Prashant Jha, district secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said: “The forest department has used the lockdown as an excuse to clamp down on land rights repeatedly, leading to the beginning of a bigger movement on the ground to demand land rights. The department clandestinely destroyed their crops and planted teak plant in their fields to take away their livelihood; the movement has now spread to many other villages.”
According to The Third Pole: “Adivasi communities in India, which at 104 million individuals make up 8.6% of the population, are significantly dependent on agriculture. However, in the past decade, the number of Adivasi cultivators has shrunk by 10%, while the number of agricultural labourers increased by 9%. This has made Adivasi communities particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 lockdown, as many found it impossible to access either agricultural or non-agricultural livelihood options.”
In Korba, this vulnerability, activists say, is exploited by the forest department and the district administration, which is not accepting new applications for land claims and cancelling old applications without acknowledgement. In Korba Municipal Corporation area, thousands of acres of land is registered as forest land and many families have been living here for many generations.
Members of the tribal communities are not only asking for their land but are also demanding that the guilty officers be prosecuted in cases of eviction. They demand that those evicted should be allowed to repossess land to compensate them for their losses and that their claims are investigated.
Read More: Chhattisgarh: Tribal Houses Razed to Ground in Dhamtari District