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Since 2011, I’ve traveled through tribal districts in Andhra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. In these years, I’ve seen rooms full of forest rights claims gathering dust, some even in the constituency of Tribal Affairs Min @jualoram.
Hundreds of adivasis across states who I’ve interviewed had not even heard of the Forest Rights Act a decade after it was introduced. They didn’t believe they had a right to consent or to file individual or community claims, a belief that authorities would rather let persist.
It was an Act meant to empower gram sabhas, or village assemblies to verify rights. Where do most rejections come from? District level committees comprised of bureaucracy that still uses the words 'encroachers' to describe adivasis.
"So it’s their historic right. But I have to see whether the coal block’s right came first or their forest right came first," said a senior forest officer to me in Jharkhand's Latehar district. Community forest claims over sacred groves had been rejected, but not mining.
In districts where <50% is literate+land is everything, reasons for rejecting claims rarely communicated, max a line in sarkari Hindi.👇🏾rejected claim from Chhattisgarh. Adivasis rejected mining in the same forest 4 times. Who's at risk of eviction?
So many officials- forest, revenue, mining- still aren't clear (conveniently) about how the Act works, blame adivasis squarely for deforestation *while* taking time-bound decisions on diverting 1000s of hectares of forest "bc PMO is monitoring." Wish his lawyers showed up, tho.
#NotAllClaims is what wildlife orgs have been arguing. Utility-jacket brethren, genuine rights-holders haven't even gotten started. And while we're at it, pray tell me how many wildlife orgs have risked antagonising forest depts where large-scale deforestation is under way?
Nearly 24 million adivasis have been displaced by development since India became a republic. The Forest Rights Act was meant to undo our resource/enviro racism, but has been under attack since communities started to use it to defy big industry. Now another million face eviction.
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