Stop eviction of Tribals & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers
Issue pattas to the cultivating of Podu Lands Implement the Rights enumerated in the Forest Rights Act 2006
Rise and develop the united movement to defend Podu Lands
Tribals are the most oppressed, exploited and neglected people in Society and even now the main means of their livelihood is Podu Lands (forest lands). State and central governments have started attacks through Forest personnel, with police force on a large scale, to evict the Tribals and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers from forests. In the last 5 years, Telangana State Government abandoned issuing pattas to those cultivating podu lands, though they are cultivating since long and instead took up the programme of evicting them from their podu lands in the name of “Harithahara” and started planting saplings.
Parliament on 29.12.2006 approved “The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act 2006”, due to the pressure mounted by the movements launched by Tribals and other Forest Dwellers through their organizations, supported by intellectuals and other forces. Rules pertaining to the above Act were finalized in 2008. In 2002, Supreme Court in Godavarman case had given orders to evict the tribals and other forest dwellers, whose forest lands have not been regularized. The danger of eviction of 50 lakh tribals from their podu lands came to the fore and about 3 lakh tribals had been evicted. The movement against the Supreme Court order was militant and some persons had sacrificed their lives. As a consequence of these struggles, the present FRA -2006 came into existence. This Act stipulates issuing of Title Deeds up to 4 Hectares/10 acres of forest lands, which were being cultivated before 13th December 2005, by Tribals and other Traditional Forest Dwellers, who are residing since 3 generations- 75 years. FRA 2006 defined the Forest Land in its chapter 1(d) “…within any forest area and includes unclassified forests, undemarcated forests, existing or deemed forests, protected forests, reserved forests, sanctuaries and national parks”. Land patta certificates are to be given for community needs also. Besides these communities also have the right to utilize the minor forest produce and these include,”…all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brushwood, stumps, cane, tursar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the like.” Thus, the Act gives 13 kinds of legal rights. Their rights are not dependent on anyone’s magnanimity but have legal sanction.
Already 13 years have passed since the existence of FRA 2006 but neither the Central nor any State Government has implemented this Act properly. Though the tribals and other forest dwellers (who are residing since 75 years) are cultivating 3, 5, 6 or 10 acres of podu land but they were given pattas for only 1 to 10 cents in many villages, and thus diluting the very purpose of the Act itself.
More than half of the claims for pattas have been rejected ignoring the provisions of the Act. According to available statistics, 18,92,893 claims have been rejected. In Telangana State 1,16,118 claims, amounting to 3,81,566 acres of land, have been rejected. According to the Supreme Court order, 11.8 lakh Tribals (families) have to be evicted. About one crore tribal people are facing the danger of evictions. Tribal peasants and other people are not able to get pattas and utilize the schemes such as loans from the Banks, Rytu Bandhu, Insurance to the peasants, subsidies on seeds etc. and other schemes due to lack of legal rights.
In Telengana Forest officials are coming with police on a large scale and digging trenches including the areas which people are cultivating and in some places even occupying the podu land for which the peasants have got the pattas also. They are using filthy language, heckling, insulting and threatening the tribals with dire consequences. They have already arrested and foisted false cases on thousands of tribals and others and even used the P.D. Act. Com. Madhu, the Secretary of R.C. of CPI(ML)-ND has been arrested under P.D. Act and since one year he is languishing in prison. They are instigating the people against each other and creating disputes and contradictions between tribals and non-tribals; people who have pattas and who does not possess pattas; primitive tribes e.g. Gonds, Koyas and plain tribes e.g. Banjaras. Last year they destroyed standing crops such as cotton and maize with tractors. Some tribals even resorted to suicide in Khammam, Warangal, Bhadradri Kothagudem and Mahabubabad districts. These tribals had lost their crops and lands. However, suicides are not at all the solution. This only shows their desperation and highlights the need to wage a determined struggle to safeguard their land and livelihood.
“Wild Life First” and other organizations have filed writ petitions in the Supreme Court in 2008, challenging the constitutional validity of the FRA 2006. Supreme Court, on Feb. 13, 2019, ordered all State governments, to evict before 10th July those tribals and others from their podu lands, either whose claims have been rejected or who have no legal titles and submit compliance report to the Supreme court on 12.7.2019 and stated, “In case the eviction is not carried out, the matter would be viewed seriously by the Court.” By the time of this order, Central government had not filed its affidavit to the Supreme Court and even the Solicitor General had not attended the court. On this Supreme Court order, tribals and others expressed their opposition and anger seriously throughout the country. Due to this opposition and keeping in view then ensuing parliamentary elections, Modi Government filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking modification of the earlier order. Hearing on this writ petition was held on 28.2.2019 and Supreme Court modified its earlier order.
Supreme Court, in its modified order, directed to inform the persons the causes of rejection, give them an opportunity to appeal to the higher committee and these issues will be discussed on 24th July by the Supreme court. Tribals and others could be evicted only after exhausting of all the legal opportunities by the beneficiaries, implementing the Act and after examining all the issues pertaining to them.
“Supreme Court’s modified order” has not been implemented in any state in the country, though 4 months have passed since this order. It was stated in the writ petition filed by Tribal welfare Department of the Centre that the claims of tribals and others were rejected in a summary manner and due opportunity was not provided to the claimants. In certain cases eviction orders were issued even before the appeals under the Act were exhausted. Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justice Arun Misra, Navin Sinha and M.R. Shah commented, “What was the Centre doing till now? Some states had not followed due procedure, while considering the claims despite the Centre’s directions. Finally the Bench in its proceedings order stated, “We keep our order dated 13.2.2019 on hold, so far as eviction is concerned.” Supreme Court directed the state governments, “In the facts and circumstances of the case, we direct the Chief Secretaries of various State Governments to file detailed affidavits covering all the aspects and also place on record the rejection orders and the details of the procedure followed for settlement of claims and what are the main grounds on which the claims have been rejected; and prepare the list with category wise details. Every claimant should be given an opportunity to appeal to the Sub-Divisional Committee, if the Village Committee rejected and to the District level committee, if the SDLC rejects.”
Centre and State Governments are allocating lakhs of forest land for other purposes – mines, projects, industries and commercial forestry etc. Green Tribunal is also permitting allotment of forest land to such schemes. In fact, Governments are on the one side evicting the tribals and others from forest land they are cultivating and on the other land they are giving lakhs of acres of forest land to foreign and domestic corporate.
While building the movement, tribals and OTFD should utilize the scope and opportunity given by Supreme Court order for knowing the causes of their eviction and to appeal to the higher committee.
Stop eviction of Tribals and others from their cultivating forest land and issue pattas to those cultivating forest land. Withdraw all the cases foisted on tribals and others. Build a strong and united movement with the aim of getting the rights, such as right to get 10 acres cultivated land, land for residence and land for the needs of the community as per FRA 2006. We have got the rights through struggles and we can get the implementation of FRA 2006 through struggle only and there is no other way. Komram Bheem, Alluri Seetharamaraju and Birsa Munda led heroic tribal struggles for land and against oppression and suppression during the colonial rule of the Britishers.
July 4th is the day armed struggle of the peasants started in Telangana, which is one of the important days in the history of peasants’ struggles, carried out for land and livelihood and against feudal forced labour (Vetti), autocratic oppression and suppression. On this day Doddi Komaraiah was martyred.
All should come together, rise and move to defend Podu Lands, taking the spirit and exemplary sacrifices of martyrs. There is no other way.
All India Tribal Convention is being held on 4th July 2019 at Hyderabad. Delegates from different Tribal Organizations from Telangana and other states are participating in this convention.