After an inexplicable delay of 12 months, the Government of India, at long last, notifies the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. This notification means that the Act will be in force from 1st January, 2008. In these 12 months adivasis in various forest areas of the country have been subject to systematic assaults by the forest department and a host of other forces, who did not like the idea of India's forest resources being controlled by the forest dwellers. Thousands of people living in forest areas for generations in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Gujrat, Kerala, Tamilnadu and elsewhere battled eviction attempts, and in many cases, were brutally evicted, their villages burnt or bulldozed, people tortured, harassed and arrested in false cases--simply because they had demanded forest rights.
Paying no heed to laws passed by a sovereign country's Parliament, a handful of forest bureaucrats, continued to tyrannize the rightful owners of Indian forests. While on the ground forest officials denied the very existence of the Forest Rights Act, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, issued a guideline to State Forest Departments, to identify 'inviolate' Critical Wildlife Habitats as defined in the Act! The Act was not notified, and neither had the rights settlement process prescribed in the Act started anywhere. This did not stop the MoEF from issuing the completely illegal guidelines. Not to be left behind, the State Forest Departments notified 'inviolate' tiger habitats in several states, claiming that the rights provided in the Forest Rights Act will not apply to such notified areas.
The forest communities of this independent country expects that, with notification of the Forest Rights Act, this charade will now stop, and calls upon people everywhere to join them in the bitterly-fought and still continuing struggle for forest rights. The implementation of the Forest Rights Act must start in right earnest, giving full primacy to the Gramsabhas. While we at the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) welcome the notification of the Act, we also want to point out that the Rules for the Act are still extremely vague and sketchy, and these do not clear the ambiguities latent in the original Act. We also demand that suitable Amendments are brought to the Forest Rights Act, to include the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, and to ensure that all genuine forest dwellers of the country come under it, and rights enshrined in the Act do not get in any way compromised by interference from Government Officials.
NFFPFW reiterates that the forest communities of India will continue their struggle for the amendment and implementation of the Forest Rights Act as part of the broader struggle to conserve forests--and to defend their identity and livelihood--against all attempts to put the country's natural resources on sale.
Pushpa Toppo, Munnilal, Shibo Sunuwar, Kanta Marathe, Sanjay Basu Mullick, Asok Chowdhury
On behalf of National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers ( NFFPFW)