The Centre's bid to empower tribals and forest dwellers by carrying through the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2006, has received a cautious welcome in Jharkhand.
Intellectuals, leaders and activists have hailed the Bill as a victory for tribals, but say implementation could be a worry. Their fear is that people who are not eligible, tribals or others, might take advantage of the law by coming up with fake documents.
Though the Bill has suggested that gram sabhas would initiate the process, the absence of elected gram sabhas is a problem in Jharkhand.
Another worry is the large number of cases pending with different courts that relate to “encroachment” of forestland. Thousands of cases are pending in different courts of the state since the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
Though the forest department was not ready to part with the exact number of pending cases, Jharkhand principal chief conservator of forests Zutsi said 550 square km of forest land in Jharkhand, out of a total forest cover of 23,600 square km, was involved in encroachment cases.
Talking to the
, Ram Dayal Munda, former vice-chancellor of Ranchi University, said the Bill was a ‘victory’ for tribals and forest dwellers, who had waged a long battle for it.
“There are, however, several complications. The government should come out with a proper system to ensure the law in implemented in letter and spirit,” he said.
However, some forest officials said the law would serve as a license to the dwellers to further destruct forests.
Relatives of leaders who had fought hard for tribals rights, said the Bill was a victory for all those who fought for it. “The Bill is a fitting tribute to all the martyrs who died fighting the cause,” said Jharkhand Welfare Minister Joba Majhi. Her husband Devendra Majhi had died fighting for tribals in the infamous Saranda forest episode in the 1980s.
In 1978, the forest department had decided to cut down ‘sal’ trees and plant ‘saguan’ in their place.
Thousands of tribals and forest dwellers had protested and the protestors included Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Sibu Soren and then JMM leader Shailendra Mahto. According to ‘Forest and Tribals’, a book by Mathew Arriparampil, there have been at least 25 incidents of police firing on tribals in Saranda between 1978-1985. Several tribals and those fighting for their rights had lost their lives.
According to a survey by the Bharat Jan Andolan, an NGO protecting the rights of the forest dwellers, such a law will benefit over 1.5 core tribals and forest dwellers, who will have rights over 12.5 lakh acres throughout the country.
But for now, the NGO is not happy. It has mounted pressure on Rajya Sabha members to reject the Bill, which, according to them, has assured protection to only 10 per cent of the dwellers.
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