Tribals Allege Officials Use Forest Rights Act to Harass, Demand Money; Picket DM’s Office
Bhopal: Upset with the poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the day-to-day intervention of the Forest Department officials on their farmlands, a group of over 4,000 tribals picketed Burhanpur collector office on January 24.
Under the banner of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) – an outfit that works for the marginalised in the Nimar division of the state – over 4,000 tribals carried out a long march between the District Hospital and the collector’s office.
They alleged everyday harassment by forest cops and the involvement of forest officials in the illegal felling of trees to mint money.
They also demanded proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act, better education infrastructure and electricity in their villages – which is missing even as the country celebrated its 74th Republic Day with glam and glitz.
After reaching the collectorate, the agitating tribals demanded to meet the District Collector Bhavya Mittal in a bid to hand over a memorandum and put forth their demands. But it was turned down by the collector who sent her subordinate SDM Deepak Chouhan and Lakhan Aggrawal, joint-secretary, Burhanpur Tribal Affairs Department, to meet the protesters.
The enraged tribal protestors asked pointed questions to SDM about the Forest Rights Act and its violation which he failed to reply to. A protester could be seen saying in a video: "The officers neither know the laws nor can implement them and have the audacity to take action against the wrongdoers. If they leave the chair, we can run the administration."
In front of the officials, they alleged that the forest officials and cops often demand money from tribal farmers whose land applications are pending and who live close to the forest.
Protesters said that those who refuse to pay forest officials were termed 'outsiders' or 'encroachers' and their ready-to-harvest crops or even homes were mowed down with JCBs. "Under the garb of implementing forest laws, they demand money from the farmers for running tractors and thresher machines in their fields. They are also minting money by selling forest produce and costly woods," alleged Antram Awase, a tribal protester associated with JADS.
According to Madhya Pradesh Tribal Area Development Planning (TADP), 1.98 lakh claims of tribals have been taken into consideration to review through Van Mitra App by October 17, 2022. Of these, only 34, 932 applications got approval while 1.09 lakh applications were rejected again. Remaining, 53, 517 applications are still pending, the officials said.
"The process to verify the documents and holding Gram Sabhas got delayed owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. We are trying to put things on track," said an officer.
According to the agitators, the verification process of their land rights under the Forest Rights Act is pending even after 15 years. In some places, land rights applications were rejected without holding Gram Sabhas or without Sabha's consent – which is a mandatory clause.
The agitators also opposed the New Forest Conservation Rules, 2022 which enable handing over of the forest land to the companies without the consent of Gram Sabha.
Apart from the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, the protesters demanded proper schools, electricity, jobs and a mandi in the tribal-populated Nepanagar town of Burhanpur district. Tribals are travelling to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and other states in search of wages, they said. Families along with their children are becoming bonded labourers in the sugarcane fields by taking an "advance" of only Rs. 15,000 – Rs 20,000 for three months and also facing sexual exploitation.
"The government, which spends over Rs 100 crores on two days of an NRI meet to entertain foreign guests in Indore, has no money to spend on tribals’ education, health services, adequate electricity and village development. This point is repeatedly highlighted by tribals," said Madhuri, one of the key leaders of the outfit.
In the end, the protesters handed over a memorandum addressing the chief minister, appealing to him to stop illegal felling, implement Forest Rights Act, and provide education and electricity in tribal areas.
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