he 3rd Annual Convention of the Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan was held in Khunti with great enthusiasm. The convention was described as a historical event by some of the tribal elders because this kind of gathering of the tribal chiefs and elders on forest issues had never happened in the recent past. During the long drawn Jharkhand movement though the forest issues were raised repeatedly but no serious and well designed programme was ever taken up. The political parties with tribal dominance largely compromised with the timber contractors and forest officials and the localized movements of the people remained too isolated and scattered to make any considerable impact on the state forest policy. After the formation of the Jharkhand state it was expected that the age old demands of the people to regain their lost rights over forests would at least be taken into consideration while formulating any new forest policy by the state. Unfortunately that did not happen. On the contrary, a thoroughly anti-people forest policy was adopted by the government. JJBA was formed three years ago to take up this issue and to assert the popular demands emphatically at the state and the all India level. The present convention was the outcome of the relentless efforts of the JJBA activists.
The convention basically focused on the Mundari Khuntkatti Villages distributed in the districts ofRanchi, Kharswan-Saraikela and Hazaribagh districts of the South Chotanagpur Division of the state of Jharkhand. However, other districts were also represented. The convention was attended by 677 delegates from 435 villages covering 16 developmental blocks and 7 districts. Mr. Ashok Chaudhuri, national convener of the National Forum of the Forest People and Forest Workers addressed the meeting as the chief guest. Mrs. Bharati and Ms Roma Das with the activists from the Shonbhadra struggle area actively participated and shared their experiences. Mr. Ved Prakash Marhwah, the Honorable Governor of Jharkhand was the chief guest of the open session. Besides there were several observers representing Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Governmental Organizations (GOs) including the Forest Department of Jharkhand. The print and electronic media gave a wide coverage of the programme. The convention adopted some resolutions, which was then made public as the Khunti Declaration in the open session on the 29th of November.
Khunti Declaration 2003
We the indigenous (Adivasi) and analogous (Moolvasi) peoples of Jharkhand gathered in Khunti,Jharkhand, India from 27th to 29th of November 2003 under the banner of the Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan firmly declare the following statements.
- Forests are sources of our life and livelihood – the base of our society and culture.
- We are the rights holders of our ancestral forests, not just stake holders.
- The Jharkhand government should recognize us as the only owners of our ancestral forest, land and water that were forcibly taken over from our fore parents by the British colonial state.
- The Jharkhand Government should revive the pre British condition and restore the ownership and management rights of forests to us.
- The Mundari Khuntkatti forests, which were illegally taken over by the Forest Department as Private Protected Forests under the pretext of managing them ‘scientifically’, should be restored to their rightful owners at once.
- The Protected Forests or the so-called Jamindari forests of the British era, which were actually the village forests, should be given back to the respective villages they belonged to without further delay.
- Due respect should be given to and measures should be taken to protect the Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge of bio-diversity.
- We strongly demand immediate scrapping of the policy of imposing Joint Forest Management on us.
- We are the people of the forests; our traditional institutions are closer to the forests than the Forest Department. Therefore, only we can protect and regenerate forests.
- The Forest Department has lost its credibility; it has failed miserably to protect forests and the wildlife; it should therefore, give up its claim as the owner and manager of the forests.
- Suitable changes are made in the Jharkhand Panchyati Raj Bill to bestow the rights of forest management to the Gram Sabhas under PESA.
- Establishing harmony between forests and the people is the key to sustainable development of forests.
- Stop immediately all attempts to evict us from our homes in the forests.
- We strongly condemn any attempt to amend the existing Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908 that is being designed to make the tribal land salable. We, on the contrary, demand the nullification of all the previous amendments and the restoration of the Act to its original form.
- We realize that the women have become the worst victims of the alienation of forest rights and deforestation and therefore, we uphold their important position in the decision making process on the issues of forest rights and forest management.
- We call upon the state and the civil society to recognize that through the protection and promotion of our rights and through recognizing and integrating our dynamic and holistic vision we are securing not only our future but the future of humanity and social and environmental justice for all.