Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Forest dept responsible for destruction of forests, says book on tribals

Syed Khalique Ahmed
Posted online: Wednesday, March 05, 2008 at 11:42:39
Updated: Wednesday, March 05, 2008 at 12:03:12

Ahmedabad, March 4 Making a strong case for allotment of forestland to adivasis, a book titled ‘Adivasis and Forest: United in Struggle, Marching for Justice’ authored by Rajpipla-based tribal activist Fr. Xavier Manjooran has held the Forest department responsible for the destruction of forests.
Dedicated to the two tribals killed in the February 13 police firing in the Vijaynagar forest range, the 108-page book says tribals have always protected the forest as they consider trees as their mother.

“Tribals can never destroy the forests,” said the author, who has been actively involved in the struggle for tribal rights for decades and is the chief architect of the Adivasi Mahasabha in Gujarat. Going into the details of the rights and justice for adivasis, Fr. Manjooran says the tribals have been agitating since the time of the British rule against the injustice done to them by different laws and the forest department. While the laws did injustice to adivasis by alienating them from forests, the laws and forest department paved the way for destruction of forest.

“In the name of 'scientific development' of the forest, the British prepared the ground to loot the precious timber from forests in India,” he says, adding that Indian forests were reduced from 40 per cent to 19 per cent after British began the process of ‘scientific development’.

“Though enormous fund was allocated and draconian laws were brought for forest conservation, it only added to the oppression and plight of adivasis with no development or increase in forest cover,” says Fr. Manjooran.

According to the book, with 23 per cent of land under its control, the forest department is the biggest landholder in the country. However, 60 per cent of this land is denuded and without trees. Quoting statistics from the department, the book says the total forestland “encroached” is 0.9 per cent accounting for about 12.5 lakh hectares of the total forest cover.

“This encroachment includes not only what the adivasis cultivate but also illegal occupation of forest land by forest mafias under the benign protection of forest department,” claims the book. “After the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was enacted and later after the Supreme Court had taken the forest under its special care, the total amount of land given away officially by the forest department in the name of development is more than 11.33 lakh hectares,” it adds,

“Yet, the book says, the forest department, the ‘tigerwalas' and the so-called elite media go on blaming the poor adivasis for the destruction of forest.”

He writes that an official circular from the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment dated May 3, 2002 to chief secretaries of all the states united the tribals. The circular had ordered eviction of all adivasis who do not have fine-receipt issued by the department to show that they had been cultivating the land before 1980.

As it meant eviction of one crore adivasis without any compensation, a nationwide agitation started against this order, thus giving birth to a national network called ‘Campaign for Survival and dignity’ (CSD).

According to the book, it was the united agitation and lobbying that forced the Central government to pass the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Forest Dwellers (Protection of Land Rights) Act in 2006 and was notified for implementation on January 2008.

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