Bharat Jan Andolan national coordinator B.D. Sharma on Sunday said tribal communities should own lands and resources in the forest areas.

Addressing a public meeting conducted by Coastal Corridor Vyatireka Porata Samiti here at Ambedkar Bhavan, he said, even during British India, the foreign rulers never tried to conquer resources in the tribal areas. They had set up a commission in 1857, which probed for two years and observed that the communities managed the resources as per their customs and traditions.

Mr. Sharma, a former IAS officer, who authored several books on tribal rights, said after India achieved Independence and adopted a new Constitution, the rights over tribal lands and resources were transferred to the State. “This was not in good taste. For true empowerment for the aboriginal people, it should be left to the community,” he opined.

Advocating land to the tiller, he said to solve land disputes, the State must recognise the rights of the people of the area. He said the village panchayats should be converted into units for local self-governance at the grassroots level. “Self-rule will ensure proper decision making, delivery system, and plug the loopholes in the system by ensuring transparency,” he said.

Recalling how he justified the struggle taken up by Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar when he was SC and ST Commissioner in early 1990s, he said, “I told the then Prime Minister Chandrasekhar that none should approach the house of a person without knocking at the door.

Similarly, no project should be set up anywhere without consulting and taking the consent of locals.”

Discretionary powers

Mr. Sharma said without obtaining mandate at gram sabhas, the government should not give any clearance for any project, and wondered how the discretionary powers vested with Governors to protect the rights of tribal people had not been invoked so far to deny permission to any project.

Indian Federation of Trade Unions State president S. Venkateswarlu, district president M. Venkateswarlu, POW president M. Lakshmi, and environmental activist J.V. Ratnam were present.

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