The stranglehold on the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) by the Forest department has led to an indefinite hunger strike by the people of 32 villages in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh. The villagers from forest-dwelling areas are demanding the implementation of FRA and relinquishment of management rights by the forest department. The villagers have been on strike since August 23, but it seems that the state has turned a blind eye toward their grievances.
“Today marks the 8th day of the hunger strike. The villagers have been demanding management rights which are in the hands of the forest department. Although the Community Forest Right (CFR) titles have been given, but with illegal conditions. There is an attempt to dilute the provisions of the Forests Right Act,” Alok Shukla, convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Manch told Newsclick.
Sources revealed that the dilution of FRA by the forest department has triggered protests by the villagers and activists of the Sarguja district. Under the Forest Rights Act, the villagers from the forest-dwelling areas are entitled to two customary land titles – Individual Forest Right (IFR) which pertains to an individual, and Community Forest Right (CFR), which belongs to the entire community. “The forest dwellers are protesting to claim their rights over forest resources and manage them,” said Alok.
Even the land given under Individual Forest Right titles is not what they had originally occupied. “Villagers are given less land than what they had actually occupied. We have cases where the land occupied was 4 hectares, but the IFR was given only for 0.5 acres,” Gangaram Paikra of Chhattisgarh Van Adhikar Manch, which is organising the strike said.
“Besides, less land being given to the villagers, there is no proper demarcation of the land. Villagers don’t know which part of the land is theirs. There are also cases where the forest department have prevented the locals from taking Minor Forest Produce (MFP) which includes tendu leaves and bamboo etc.,” said Alok Shukla.
Meanwhile, the villagers, under the banner of Chhattisgarh Van Adhikar Manch, have raised other demands too. One of the demands underlines the need for acquiring permission from Gram Panchayats which has not yet been implemented, and the Forest department owns all the management power. “Under community rights, any development has to go through the Gram Panchayat, who will discuss and further approve of the development. But this is not happening. This way, the villagers have no rights on the land,” Paikra said.
Moreover, one of the demands underlines the need to find a solution to the dispute over the forest rights between the Pahadi-Korwa community and the Sub-Level Committee. “For the last two years, the FRA titles of the Pahadi- Korwa community are stuck with the Sub-Level Committee. The villagers of the community have filed claims with the district authorities for their rights. We want the solution to be provided at the earliest. The Pahadi- Korwa community belongs to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group. It should be solved at the earliest. We can’t let them take control of the land that belongs to the villagers,” said Paikra.
According to the news reports, an official from the District Collector’s office has said that they aren’t aware of any strike.