Insist government to grant community rights on land, Medha tells Girijans

Receiving pattas under the Recognition of Forest Rights Act is not all that matters for Girijans but they must also protect and nurture the forests, social activist and national convener of NAPM Medha Patkar said here on Tuesday.

“Your patta is not just your right but is life support for you. This Act recognises the rights that are already existing and after feeling the land as your own, you must also protect and nurture the forest, its biodiversity and animals living in it”, Ms. Patkar, who is a jury member of a public hearing on implementation of RFR Act in Andhra Pradesh, said at the conclusion of the programme.

She and other members of the jury: Member of the NAC and Chairman of a high level committee to prepare report on Girijans’ conditions, Virginius Xaxa; former Union Secretary E.A.S. Sarma and journalist Tankasala Ashok made observations and suggestions after hearing the difficulties of Girijans regarding the RFR Act.

Forests must be protected from destruction by the Girijans, others and even Government, but this area was not covered by the Girijans who gave their versions on the implementation of the Act in their areas, she pointed out. She wanted the Girijans to insist with the Government to grant community rights before their individual rights on the land since this would help in protecting forests. They should also prepare biodiversity register of their respective areas and form committees through Gram Sabhas to protect forests.

The social activist also warned the Government against giving the benefit from one hand, through the RFR Act and taking it back from the other, through the new Land Acquisition Act which will come into effect from January 1, 2014. There is a provision in this Act that lands belonging to Girijans could be acquired only when it was absolutely necessary and since the rules for the same have to framed, the Girijans and the associations working with them have to work hard and fast to suggest rules to the Government to protect the lands of Girijans, Ms. Patkar said.

Regarding claims of ownership of land being rejected by the Government, she wanted the Girijans to ask the officials to explain how the land did not belong to them. “Elections are round the corner and so you make the political parties talk about our issues”.

She said the jury of the public hearing would send the recommendations made at the public hearing to the Government and also fight hard to make it implement them.

Another member of the jury Mr. Sarma pointed out that the Government was trumpeting about the SC, ST Sub-Plans but not implementing the equally important RFR Act in a proper manner.

Officers were unaware of the provisions of the Act, he said and wanted a nodal officer to be appointed for the useful implementation of the Act. Prof. Virginius Xaxa found benefits yet to be enjoyed by the Girijans under the Act. Struggles were needed for its proper implementation, he felt. Mr. Ashok said Acts were enacted with loopholes and self interests also weaken the Acts during the implementation.

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