Adivasis Janajati Adhikar Manch (AJAM) in collaboration with Adivasi Adhikar Manch (AAM) and other local sangathans have observed “International Day of World Indigenous Peoples” today on 9th August 2016 in various states across India. In Odisha, the day is being observed with gatherings of more than 700 adivasis with traditional music and dance at Umerkote Block head quarters, Nabarangpur District under the leadership of Ms Harabati Gond, national President of AJAM. The celebration of the Day was followed with a public sharing and discussion on the critical issues and challenges the indigenous tribal communities in Odisha as well as India are facing today. The issues discussed inter alia include the identity of inclusion and exclusion in the tribal lists, alcoholism, police atrocities and harassment, increasing incidents of cold blooded murder of innocent tribals by security forces, non- implementation of PESA 1996 and FRA 2006, recently passed anti-tribal Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bills 2016, poor education, non-functioning of health services, employment of youths, etc. were discussed. Among the key speakers, organisations and activists participated on the occasion were Ms Harabati Gond-National President AJAM, Rajesh Jani- Secy. & Nuakhau Bhatra, Vice President, AAM, N. Ahmed, Gana Sangharsha, Nabrangpur, Hirasingh Gond- Tribal Leader Raighar, Rajkishore Nag- Lawyer and Youth Leader, Chatur Singh Harijan- Democratic Youth Federation, Sarat Majhi- Social worker, Rabi Narayan Samarath – District President AJAM.
The recently passed CAF Bill 2016 does not have any provision to ensure consent of the Gram Sabha and forest rights holders, a statutory requirement under FRA 2006 and PESA 1996. Community Forest Resources (CFR) now constitute a new forest category to be governed and managed by Gram Sabhas and forest rights holders. The bill in the present form is in direct confrontation with the historic FRA 2006 and will have disastrous impact on the rights and livelihoods of tribals and forest dwellers.A memorandum was shared moved for honorable Governor of Odisha and to the President of India raising the following issues and appealed for protection of the progressive laws and securing rights of tribal forest dwellers and save them from age-old deprivation and continued exploitation:
We the tribal and forest dwelling communities are managing our forest since long time and the PESA and FRA also give us that power. We conserve, regenerate and restore our forest and wildlife on our own and we know better the kind of forest we need. We do not want the forest bureaucracy to bypass the real authority and owners- the Gram Sabhas, while taking up plantation over community forest area. The FRA 2006 empowers us to manage our forest as per our age old traditional knowledge and practice. The present bill utterly ignored the authority of Gram Sabha and imposing the decision of forest bureaucracy’ on us. We urge you on top priority for speedy recognition of management rights of CFRs under FRA.
That compensatory afforestation process is a threat to our commons since we are dependent on this for our livestock rearing and cultural and religious practices. The size of our customary common lands seriously reducing by various forms of encroachments. The implementation of CAF bill would strongly accelerate plantation over customary common lands bypassing the Gram Sabhas. This is completely infringed over forest rights of the forest dwellers and directly affects us. As your Honor is “directly empowered” by the Constitution of India may by public notification direct that any particular Act of Parliament or of the Legislature of the State shall not apply to a Scheduled Area or any part thereof in the State or shall apply to a Scheduled Area or any part thereof in the State subject to such exceptions and modifications as you may specify in the notification and any direction given for establishing peace and “good government” in scheduled area. So we demand your support not to implement this law in present form, in Scheduled Area of our State and enact new regulation on this effect.
In Odisha gross violation of FRA is made in recognizing the VSS area as CFR through which the decision making power of Gram Sabha in management of CFR is taken away unconstitutionally bypassed MOEFCC and Forest Department. The forest department should be instructed to stop promoting VSS within CFR area. The forestry sector development activities should be regulated as per Fifth Scheduled of the Constitution and legislative safeguard given to Scheduled Tribes in Schedule areas but not by the MoEF &CC. The forestry programme under “Ama Jangal Yojana” by Odisha Forestry Sector Development Projects is a gross violation of FRA 2006 should be banned. We also urge you to direct the State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) to issue clear guidelines on VSS as illegal and take strong action against any violation of FRA in this regard.
Deprivation of forest rights and basic human rights of adivasis living in “protected areas” with forcible eviction by Forest Department and district administration without completing the process of rights recognition under FRA is serious violation of the law. Eviction of people from Similipal Tiger Reserve is going on in war footing. One of the objectives of the CAF Bill is to be used for facilitating voluntary relocation the protected areas. This is a perverse incentive to the forest department to forcefully drive and displace people away from their ancestral land in the name of wildlife conservation. We appeal to protect the rights of Scheduled Tribes in protected areas and direct the district administration to stop eviction and manipulation of Gram Sabha. We do not want to be relocated from our land neither voluntarily nor forcefully.
There has been massive plantation in community forest lands of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in micro projects areas of Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Gajapati and Rayagada districts of Odisha and which deprive the forest rights of the vulnerable communities using CAMPA fund. We demand complete ban on plantation in PVTGs areas and do an assessment of the plantations made over community lands in PVTGs areas and deprivation of forest rights of such vulnerable communities since implementation of FRA.
To protect and safeguard the ancestral territories, resource base and habitat of PVTGs, law has made a special provision to recognize the “rights over community tenures of habitat and habitation for PVTGs and pre-agricultural communities”. After more than 8 years no proactive response is seen by the State in recognition of habitat rights of PVTGs, which is the cause in AJAM demands to speed up recognition of habitat rights of PVTGs by issuing clarifications on the exact nature of habitat rights and processes followed.
Alcoholism constitutes the major problem among the tribal peoples. Brewing of alcohol from rice, millets, ‘Mohua’ flower and fruits had been practiced traditionally. However, in recent years inroads have been made by businessmen by making very large quantities of liquor. The traditional tribal society was singularly free from crime. However, the easy availability of cheap liquor factored the increasing rate of crime, impoverishment and exploitation of the tribal’s. We want a complete ban on those liquor shops and factories from tribal areas.
The situation of malnutrition and death in tribal areas, particularly among the PVTGs is extremely grave and proves complete failure and breakdown Administration and their food security under National Food Security Programme. Among many incidents, the death of 19 Juang PVTGs children in the last three months due to acute malnutrition-related diseases in inaccessible hamlets atop the Nagada village, in Jajpur district, Odisha exposed the states apathy towards the PVTG and complete failure of State administration in the welfare of Adivasis and most vulnerable tribal communities, despite repeated occurrence of such incidents. We request your urgent interference on this issue.
That the State has reported total 85 cold blooded murders by police and security forces in fake encounter, custodial torture, and killings since last 5 years. But Odisha break the record in last 2 years with series of killings of innocent tribal and dalits by security forces in the name of giving protection from the Maoists,. The killing of a tribal youth in Niyamgiri while collecting palm juice, cold blooded killing and burying of a couple in Kotagarh and 5 poor tribals and dalit daily labourer including women and an infant of Gumudumaha in Kandhamal district, killing of 3 persons during grazing their goats in Nisaguda area of Kalahandi district and killing and burying a person in Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary in Nuapada district, custodial torture and murder of a person of Bargarh district and a person of Titlagarh on false charges are among few heinous acts of killing by police and security forces. The adivasis women and young girls are dependent and survive on collection of forest produces are sexually misbehaved, and harassed by security forces leading to insecurity in free access to forest for livelihood survival. The above incidents are increasing day by day mostly in tribal areas in the name of Maoist operation. The presence of security camps have become threat in creating the law and order situations than protecting the tribals. Thus, need your direct intervention and request for enactment of specific regulation for Scheduled Area to avoid such incidences and request you to recommend for immediate withdrawal of security forces.
Dr Sricharan Behera is a Researcher & Tribal Rights Activist Working on Natural Resources Governance, May be contacted via: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile-9556263095