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Cong all praise, NGOs sore

The passage of Tribal Rights? Bill in the Lok Sabha has evoked mixed response in Madhya Pradesh, the State for which the bill is going to have the most far-reaching impact.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2006 16:12 IST

The passage of Tribal Rights’ Bill in the Lok Sabha has evoked mixed response in Madhya Pradesh, the State for which the bill is going to have the most far-reaching impact.

While tribal Congress leader Jamuna Devi has hailed the passage of the Bill as a historic moment for the entire tribal population in the country, retired bureaucrat and environmentalist M N Buch said it would spell doom and destruction of surviving forests in India.

On the other hand, the conglomerate of NGOs working among tribals in Madhya Pradesh, which had initially been in the forefront in supporting the Bill, described it as betrayal of the tribal communities.

Talking to Hindustan Times, Jamuna Devi said that recognising rights of tribals on forestland of their habitation is a historic step. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government has won the hearts of tribals by introducing the legislation, she added. 

She further said that stringent forest laws in areas in and around national parks and sanctuaries and Forest Conservation Act had made life difficult for the forest dwellers and eviction of tribals had become a common occurrence, but the Tribal Rights Bill would ensure their rights on the land under their possession and guarantee a dignified life to them.

On the contrary, M N Buch said he could foresee death of all forests, particularly watershed forests, in the next 25 years.

“Fortunately I would not be alive by then to see destruction of forests”. The Bill, he said, would do very little good to tribals except for giving them scraps of good-for-nothing land but it would open the forests to privatisation and commercial exploitation.

Buch further said that a fresh spell of encroachments on forestland would be obvious fallout of the Bill and NGOs working among the tribals are always there to encourage it.

He further said that the Bill further proves that the Congress could go no further than paying lip service to late Indira Gandhi, whose greatest feat as Prime Minister was to introduce Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which has gone a long way in preserving remaining forests.

All the work done in that direction would be undone by the Tribal Rights Bill, he warned. Spokesperson for conglomerate of NGOs working among tribals in Madhya Pradesh Anurag Modi condemned the Government for betraying tribal community and other fellow forest dwellers like Dalits, on the issue of forest rights.

He said the Forest Right Bill as passed is an eyewash for the numerous groups who have been waiting for generations to get their due forest rights.

The apprehension that the Bill is being brought to clear the way for the Government to lease out big chunk of forest to private companies has proved right. The NGOs working for tribals’ rights on forest land along with other organisations of the country will launch a movement to secure full right to forest dwellers.

“We are not going to accept half cooked bill”, he added.  Modi further said that the Bill is designed in such a way that it will give by one hand and take away by the other.

Firstly, the forest rights have been limited to Gramsabha limit whereas 90% of the usable forest falls outside the purview of Gramsabha where forest dwellers won’t get any right as per the Bill. The Bill says Forest Dwellers will get forest right within Gramsabha limit. Modi asked why forest dwellers have been limited to Gramsabha whereas all their needs get fulfilled from the forest, which falls outside the Gramsabha limit.

“It has been deliberately done to allow the Government lease out large portions of 90 per cent remaining forest land outside the purview of Gramsabhas to private companies for commercial exploitation”, he said.