On July 9, 2019, Adivasis of Gram Panchayat Siwal situated in Burhanpur were fired with pellets by the Forest Department as they attempted to protect their sown crops from being destroyed by forest officials, revenue officials and the police. When the adivasi villagers protested, they were fired with pellet guns, leaving four injured.
Barela Adivasis of Siwal were not only fired upon, instead, at the Forest Department's behest, cases of rioting and assault to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty were also registered against the Adivasis. It was later found out that the FIR even had names of the Adivasis who had died over 20 years ago, but since they had cases registered against them by the forest department, their names were included as accused in the FIR.
Following the brazen denial of tribal rights by the forest administration and the state machinery, adivasis of Burhanpur gathered at the Burhanpur collectorate yesterday, to register a strong protest against the Forest Department's illegal firing and it's constant violations of the Forest Rights Act and government orders. The adivasis occupied the collectorate square and eyewitnesses recounted with anger the event of forest department Ranger Rajesh Randhawe shooting at Adivasis. Dhanibai, from Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, asked, “what have we ever asked for from the forest department? Are we asking for their jobs? Answer us! How did you dig up our fields and crops? Either let us sow or kill us already! We are ready to die for our lands even now! If you want to kill Adivasis, you can do it. We will die readily for our rights. We aren't even literate and you come to us with 30-40 vehicles for what, to shoot at us?.”
After the departure of the forest department, Adivasis of Siwal and other villages later gathered at the Police Station of Nepanagar demanding registration of an FIR and action against the concerned officials. However, the police refused to register an FIR. Speaking to NewsClick today, Madhuri Krishnaswamy of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) said, “late night on the 9th, we were informed that an FIR has been registered, however, no arrests have been made. In the latest turn of events, we have been told that as we were demanding, cases under IPC 307 have been registered against Burhanpur DFO, Sudhanshu Yadav; SDO (Forest) Nepanagar, Bhupendra Shukla and Forest Ranger Rajesh Randhawe and cases against the DFO and SDO are to be registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989.”
The developments in the state come in lieu of the February 13 Supreme Court order, which had called for the eviction of 11.8 lakh “illegal forest dwellers”. However, on February 28, the SC stayed the ruling and ordered the state governments to file affidavits on the number of final rejections by July 12. As the date approaches, across states, claims of tribals to their own land are being rejected blatantly through flouting of norms, often without any form of examination.
Also Read: Ahead of SC Hearing on FRA, State Govts Reject Tribal Claims Without Examination
Citing Section 4(5) of the Forest Rights Act, no claimant is to be evicted until their claims are disposed off completely in accordance with the provisions laid down in the law, the protesters also pointed out that the State Government is flouting the order it had issued on 1st May, 2019, which had prohibited any intervention against claimants under the Act. The protesting Barela Adivasis, members of the Siwal Gram Panchayat stated that they have been living in the village since 1980s, cultivating in the forest since 1984 amidst regular clashes with the forest department. The community has filed multiple claims for forest rights on their traditional lands, however filing and subsequent processing of these claims by the forest department and the state government has been rife with blatant violations of provisions laid down by the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and Forest Right Act Rules, 2008 and 2012. Citing these rejections, the forest department has been repeatedly applying undue pressure on Adivasi farmers and labourers, with women in the majority.
The tribals in the state are preparing to go on an indefinite protest from Wednesday onwards against the state government. The tribals are demanding that all false cases against Adivasis of Siwal be dropped and the the Rights accorded to the Gram Sabha under the PESA Act, 1996 and the FRA should be protected from violations by government officials. Additionally, in accordance with the State Government's order of May 1, 2019, and Section 4(5) of the FRA, 2006, no Adivasi claimant should be evicted or acted against, until, the legal processing and verification of claims are completed.