4
Dez
2005

50,000 protest over forest law in India

Date: Sun, 4 Dec 2005 19:13:24 +0530
From: Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Subject: FR Update: More than 50,000 Protesters, Bill Approved

The biggest news is of course that the forest rights Bill was approved by Cabinet last Thursday, as you must have seen in the newspapers. However, several of those reports also contained disturbing reports about changes that have been made in the Bill. The impact of some of the reported changes is in the first section below, though we won't know what the implication of these changes is until the actual Bill is made public. It is expected that the Bill will be introduced in Parliament this week.

Meanwhile, the jail bharo is swelling across the length and breadth of the country. The total of those who have protested and courted arrest has crossed 50,000. From the west of the country (Dadra and Nagar Haveli) to the east (Siliguri), from the south (Karnataka) to the north (Rajasthan), tens of thousands of people are on the streets. This coming week will also see protests in Delhi by friendly organizations, including dharnas at Jantar Mantar on the 7th and the 10th (details below), and big jail bharo andolans in Gujarat and at Jalpiguri, Bhopal, Udaipur, Bhubaneshwar, Raipur and elsewhere.

Now that the first hurdle - the Bill being cleared by Cabinet - is over, the next fight is in Parliament, to get the Bill changed so that its problems do not nullify the entire process of recognition of rights. The Campaign has begun working on this, both in the States and in Delhi, and other groups are expected to do so well. It is however going to be a hard fight in the coming months to ensure that this Bill too does not end up getting sabotaged.

FOREST RIGHTS UPDATE # 7

1. CAMPAIGN JAIL BHARO PROTESTS AND OTHER PLANNED PROTESTS

2. THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE REPORTED CHANGES IN THE BILL

PROTESTS AND DETAILS

The jail bharo andolan continues. On the 29th of this month, 8,000 people courted arrest in Silvassa in the Union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. On the 30th, more than 1,500 protesters braved the weather to march in Siliguri, West Bengal. On the 1st of December, 5,500 people marched in Ahwa (Dangs District) and Palanpur in Gujarat. In Rajasthan, three different protests held in various blocks each drew 400 - 500 people, building up to a major rasta roko in Banswada on Saturday where more than 1,000 people were expected. In Karnataka, hundreds of tribals were detained after they staged a rasta roko on December 2nd in Mudigere Taluka.

Meanwhile, Delhi will also see protests in the coming days. On December 7th, the Punarvasan Sangharsh Samiti and Lok Sangharsh Morcha are staging a dharna at Jantar Mantar. Another dharna at the same location is planned for the 10th by the Gondwana Ganatantrak Party from Madhya Pradesh.

More protests are happening in the coming days. A mobilization of more than 25,000 people is expected to shake Bhopal on the 6th and 7th. Another 7,000 are to march in Bhubaneshwar on the 8th. We will keep you informed.

REPORTED CHANGES IN THE BILL

According to press reports, three major changes have been made. First, the phrase "or as the Government may by notification specify" has been deleted from the clause that specifies that rights can only be recognized if the ST in question occupied land prior to 25-10-1980. If this is true, it is a further setback and reaffirms the unjust and arbitrary cutoff date of 1980 by removing whatever little flexibility the Bill had.

Second, the Forest Department has supposedly been given a role in the process of recognizing rights at the level of the committees. While it is not clear what this role is, we hope it does not constitute any overriding power. The Campaign has always argued that the Committees should not have arbitrary powers to overrule the gram sabha and village level process, which is the only open and democratic method of recognizing rights. Giving these committees too much power will nullify the entire process. It has been shown time and again - in Maharashtra, in Madhya Pradesh, in Karnataka and elsewhere - that where state officials can overrule the local level process arbitrarily, no recognition occurs.

Third, a provision has been included saying that rights in the "core areas" of national parks and sanctuaries will be provisionally granted for a period of five years, pending relocation. One is not sure of the phrasing of this provision, but any mention of relocation in a Bill on rights is itself extremely disturbing. Moreover, relocation without the free, prior and informed consent of the community, and without a right of return, is unjust and amounts to forced eviction. If this provision encourages such "resettlement", it is a severe blow to the entire purpose of this Bill.


Informant: Andy
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