Tribal residents of a village in Burhanpur district have accused foresters of burning down a hut on a field, and threatening to burn down the rest.
In a complaint to the police, residents of Siwal village demanded action under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, against the forest officials accused of burning down the hut and legal action against Nepanagar Ranger Dinesh Vaskale for reportedly issuing the threat.
“I was working on the other side of my 10-acre field, when foresters came in two jeeps and burnt down my hut,” asserted Sildaar Adivasi, 55. “I slept there every night to guard crops, and had stocked grains inside. By the time I could call others for help, they drove away,” he added.
Later, when Mr. Adivasi called up Mr. Vaskale to complain, the forest official is reported to have responded: “We will destroy all the tapris (huts). We will come there; don’t take tension.”
When contacted, Mr. Vasakale told The Hindu , “It was an encroachment. These people cut down forests and expand their territory, and create drama for no reason.” He further claimed that the Barela tribals were not locals, and had migrated from Barwani district over the years. “When their land is elsewhere, why do they come here?”
Mr. Adivasi asserted that he had staked claim to the land in 2008 and 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The latest claim made in January 2020, with documents relating to a court case in the 1980s as proof of ownership, was also pending, he added.
Under section 4(5) of the Act, no dweller shall be evicted from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete. Further the State government on May 1, 2019, had ordered that all rejected claims should be reconsidered and no claimant should be evicted until further orders.
“Even in Barwani, the tribals had come from Alirajpur district. And before that from Chittorgarh. At what point will you say they belong to a particular place. They have migrated over centuries. In Burhanpur, they arrived 40 years ago,” said Madhuri Krishnaswamy of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan.
On July 9 last year, the village had become a flashpoint between tribals and foresters. During an eviction drive, 300 foresters had brought in 11 earth movers, dug up sown fields and left behind gashes in the ground. They also reportedly fired pellets at the villagers, injuring four, after the tribals purportedly pelted stones on them. The Divisional Forest Officer and the Ranger were removed after the incident, and then Chief Minister Kamal Nath had ordered an inquiry. Earlier, a similar drive was undertaken in 2002.
Officials in charge of the Nepanagar police station didn’t respond to calls made to seek comment.