New Delhi: In a major blow to their long-standing battle, the Maldhari pastoral community in the Banni grassland of Kutch has once again become the victim of the broken promises by the Gujarat government. In a notification, issued on September 27, the Revenue Department has announced its decision to conduct the survey of the land, identify the revenue land, and give the rest to the Forest Department.
In 1955, Banni was legally designated as a protected forest under the formal jurisdiction of the forest department. Banni grassland, spread over 2,400 sq km, is home to pastoral Maldhari community which has been fighting for the rights of the community under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA), 2006.
The notification reads, “The Government of Gujarat has decided to conduct the revenue survey of unsurveyed area known as “Grasslands of Banni,” of Bhuj Taluka in Kutch district.
The Maldhari community has been protesting for their Community Forest Rights (CFR) titles. “This is simply a case of broken promises. They are the traditional owners of the land, and we have been asking the government to give the land to the Maldhari community. We were given confidence by the government that they get their due rights, but this notification has come as a shocker,” said Bhavana, an activist, who has been working with the community.
As per sources, the pastoral community has been fighting for the entire Banni grasslands, but it was assured that they will be given 47 land titles. “Previously, the district collector had assured us that all the 47 land titles were cleared. After a written correspondence between district collector and the then chief minister, Anandiben Patel, district collector confirmed that all the 47 land titles were cleared, and said that we need to wait for some more time and then this notice. It’s insane,” said Bhavana.
“My only question is: are we still under colonial rule? If not, then we should go by the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006, and give them the right to claim their own land. The law was enacted to redress the injustice committed against the forest dwellers due to the colonial rule. Why such injustice?” asked questioned journalist Kalem Siddiqui. As per sources, the villagers are agitated, and are planning a mass protest.
Meanwhile, the struggle for land right dates back to 1955 when Banni was declared a “protected forest.” “The villagers have been protesting since 1955, and the forest department is trying to possess the land since then, but due to the absence of the settlement process, they were unable to,” said Bhavana. “We have been fighting for a long time and we will continue in the future as well,” a villager told Newsclick.