National Convention in Defence of the Rights of Forest Dwellers towards a Resolution of the Forest-Forest Dweller Rights Conflict, Delhi, 8 December 2004

National Convention in Defence of the Rights of Forest Dwellers towards a Resolution of the Forest-Forest Dweller Rights Conflict, Delhi, 8 December 2004

Peoples’ Declaration

We the tribal people and forest dwelling communities from across the country, social activists, support organizations and concerned citizens, gathered here in Delhi on December 7th & 8th 2004 for a National Convention in Defence of the Rights of Forest Dwellers,

§           Believing that the environment crisis of the country calls on the nation’s citizens to respond to the crisis

§           Recognizing that the tribal communities have nurtured the forest and as of now 59% of the best forests are in the tribal districts.

§           Asserting that the nature-spirit-human complex of the being and becoming of forest dwellers is critical to survival of nature and humans as an organic whole.

§           Affirming that the relationship of forest dwelling communities and the forest is not instrumentalist or commercial but an organic relationship of food & health security and cultural & ethnic integrity.

§           Asserting that the forest-forest dweller relationship of subsistence use and conservation has ensured both the preservation of nature and sustenance of humans.

§           Asserting that the National Forest Policy 1988 has affirmed the symbiotic relationship between forest dwellers and sought their close involvement in the conservation of nature.

§           Asserting that in the consolidation of the forests, in both colonial and post independent India, the forest administration failed to record the communal and individual rights of the tribal and forest people, at different levels of agricultural production, resulting in a near extinction of their rights and effectively reducing them to the status of ‘illegal encroachers’.

§           Asserting that the Commissioner of SCs & STs drew attention to intense insecurity and distress among tribal communities and called upon the nation to address the crisis with alacrity and sensitivity.

§           Asserting that the Government of India (Ministry of Environment & Forests) for the first time in the history of independent India, admitted to the ‘historical injustice’ done to the tribal and forest people in the consolidation of the forests in the country compounded by the failure of the state administrations to record rights in compliance with the guidelines of Government of India of September 1990.

§           Protesting against a development model that has systematically reduced millions of tribals to the status of ecological refugees and forced them to fall back on the forest as their last refuge.

§           Protesting that the continued eviction of unrecorded adivasi title holders whether directly or through the instrumentality of JFM/CFM/VSS is patently illegal and contrary to all principles of justice & equity thereby unlawfully penalizing the adivasis and forest dwellers for the failure of the state authorities to perform their duties enjoined by law.

§           Asserting the Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles and other basic Features of the Indian Constitution, in particular the Vth and VIthe Schedules

§           Noting Government of India’s international legal obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention 107 of the International Labour Organization, Convention on Biological Diversity among other International Conventions

Believe and assert that

1.         Parliament pass a law and place it under Schedule IX of the Constitution, to give a firm legal frame to the rights and entitlements covered in  MoEF Guidelines of 18th September 1990, namely the regularisation of encroachments, the resolution of disputed claims resulting from defective Forest Settlements, regularisation of leases and pattas conferred by state governments & conversion of forest villages and other old habitations into revenue villages. The law include in its ambit the rights and entitlements of persons and communities in all forest areas including protected areas, sanctuaries, parks and reserves under the IFA and the WLPA.

2.         No subsistence cultivators and occupants of un-surveyed, disputed forest lands or ‘deemed’ forests, should be treated as ‘encroachers’ and evicted, till their rights, including CPR rights, have been inquired into through an open and transparent process and final notifications under sections 20 or 29 of the IFA have been issued.

3.         No forest dwellers who have filed their claims for consideration by the authorities under the Guidelines of MoEF dated 18th September 1990 or the MoEF’s order dated 5th February 2004 should be evicted unless their claims have been inquired into and all relevant evidence has been examined through an open, unbiased and transparent process in the gram sabha within a fixed but realistic timeframe.

4.         The process of Inquiry into all claims, laying down a procedure, defining relevant evidence to be adduced, providing claimants an opportunity and fixing criteria for acceptance must be formulated by the Government. The Order of the Government of Maharashtra No. Sankirn 2002/372/J-1dated 10th October 2002 be used as a model.

5.         Compensatory afforestation and recovery of Net Present Value should not be required for implementing the guidelines of 1990 as these lands did not have ‘forests’ on them at the time of the FCA enactment and were recorded as forest land only on paper. And isolated patches of ‘compensatory afforestation’ do not contribute in an ecologically meaningful way towards replacing the destruction of natural forests comprising complex ecosystems and the habitats of diverse flora and fauna.

6.         Post 1980 tribal and other poor forest land occupiers be rehabilitated in situ by granting them heritable but inalienable conditional pattas through a Community Managed Forest Conservation Program by gram sabhas under PESA Act 1996 and permitting them to practice agro-silvi operations pursuant to their protecting mutually demarcated forest areas.

7.        An effective mechanism for preventing illegal evictions be put in place immediately.

8.         Adivasis and other forest dwellers, who have been victims of forced evictions, must be given back their land and compensated adequately for the destruction of their property.

9.         Punitive action must be taken against all those officials who have forcibly evicted forest dwellers from land, the ownership of which is disputed as per the MoEF’s own admission or for which they had legal titles.

10.      All criminal cases filed against the victims of such evictions arising out of evictions and the resultant conflicts are immediately withdrawn.

11.       The Government and Forest Administrations desiring to rid the forests of encroachments prove their bonafides by taking stringent action against powerful real estate and other commercial/plantation/mining lobbies grabbing forest land.

12.      The Ministry of Tribal Affiars be given the responsibility to involve the Gram Sabha and peoples’ organisations in strengthening and building upon the indigenous knowledge of forest dwelling communities in appropriate agro-silvi practices that must integrate adequate tree cover as well as sustainable livelihoods to the poor.

13.      The role of women, both in conservation and livelihood protection is recognized and protected.

14.      The subversion of the Gram Sabha, as the peoples’ democratic institution be stopped forthwith. The formation of  Forest Protection/ JFM Committees by whatever designation be done only in and with the consent of the Gram Sabha.

15.      A new Conservation Law and Forest Law be drafted, with provisions for protecting the indigenous knowledge and rights of indigenous/forest dwelling communities in accordance with the Convention of Biodiversity Conservation, other International Standards and the Constitution of India in consultation with Peoples’ Representatives, Peoples Movements & CBOs.

16.      No lands ‘recorded’ as forests in government records should be brought under the purview of the FCA without verification of their actual use and status on the ground.

17.      Purview of the FCA be restricted to areas with real forest cover which have been notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act after completing the due legal process of settlement and clear demarcation of boundaries.

18.      All areas not under the direct jurisdiction of the FD but brought under its management control by virtue of the dictionary definition of forests specified by the Supreme Court in the Godavarman case should be excluded from the purview of the FCA.

19.      Community grazing and forest lands, even if recorded as ‘forests,’ be kept under community management and control in accordance with existing rights instead of being transferred to FDs for ‘scientific forestry’, thereby undermining local livelihoods and food security.

20.      Section 28 of the IFA should be operationalised to convert reserved and protected forests  into “village forests” to be managed by gram sabhas of forest dwelling communities on principles of conservation with sustainable use to enhance sustainable livelihoods, on lines of the original model of Van Panchayats in Uttaranchal. The PESA provision for management of community resources by gram sabhas should be operationalised in Schedule V areas,

21.      Under no circumstances should additional tribal and other community lands, including jhum lands, be declared state forests on grounds of meeting the 33% forest cover objective or for ‘compensatory afforestation’, as appropriation of such lands have been responsible for large scale destruction of livelihoods, poverty and alienation of forest dwellers from forests.

22.      In states with minimal forest cover, incentives for landowners and communities to increase forest cover on their lands should be developed.

23.      Additional non-forest land should not be notified as reserved or protected forests in lieu of the diverted land as this leads to fresh displacement from livelihood uses. Compensatory afforestation should be done only on the already notified large but degraded forest lands.

24.      In the case of community owned jhum lands in the North East, instead of the MoEF granting clearance for their diversion to other uses due to their also being categorised as ‘unclassed forests’, the prior informed consent of the jhumming communities should be obtained. In the same vein the Net Present Value of such lands be paid to the communities not to CAMPA.

25.      In Vth Schedule areas, as required by the Samatha judgement, no land should be allocated for mining, industry or private use without the prior, informed consent of the local communities through their Gram Sabha.

26.      The government must implement both private and public land reform. While distribution of surplus private land to the landless should be speeded up, a comprehensive public lands reform must also be initiated which recognises the role of the uncultivated common lands in diverse livelihood systems instead of treating them as ‘wastelands’ to be diverted to other uses or state ‘forests’ to be managed exclusively by Forest Departments.

27.      The President of India and State Governors should be asked to exercise their powers for withholding the application of forestry laws in scheduled areas with due modification to suit the specific conditions of the areas and the communities living therein.

28.      The President of India and State Governors should ensure that laws, like PESA, which recognize alternative self governance systems and which recognize the competency of the gram sabha to safeguard common property resources of the community should be respected and implemented by the State governments and the administration .

29.      All attempts to undo the law related to the restoration of alienated tribal lands and prevention of tribal land alienation, as in Kerala, should be withdrawn and such laws should be immediately enacted for areas where they have not been enacted as in Tamil Nadu.

30.      The concept of “wilderness” to promote flora and fauna, must be replaced with a concept of “stewardship”, that recognises that both the forest and forest dwellers depend upon each other for their own survival.

31.      A specific approach for recognizing and recording the communal property rights of pre-agricultural ‘Primitive Tribal Groups’ and shifting cultivators, who, under no circumstances should be treated as ‘encroachers’ on their ancestral lands, should be developed.

32.      Instead of classifying their customary lands as ‘forests’, the FAO’s practice of classifying shifting cultivation lands as ‘forest fallows’ should be adopted. A different governance system for these lands needs to be evolved which enables combining their livelihood uses with maintaining ecosystem integrity (as attempted by the Government of Nagaland).

33.      In line with GOIs commitments under the convention on Biodiversity, the livelihood, cultural and other rights of indigenous/forest dwelling communities in all categories of protected areas should be protected.