Raja writes to Manmohan on forest dwellers’ plight

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Rajya Sabha member and Communist Party of India leader D. Raja sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention on Tuesday “against forcible displacement of forest dwellers and depriving them of their statutory rights.”

This, he said, was due to lack of clarity in the Central government’s guidelines and rules under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act.

In two letters written to the Prime Minister, who also holds the charge of Ministry of Environment and Forests, he raised the issue of “illegal diversion of forest land in violation of the Act” and the “problems in the implementation of the Act.”

He alleged that forestland was being used for industrial, commercial and other projects, driven mostly by increased pressure from the private industry, especially mining companies. This had emerged as a major threat to the rights of forest dwellers. Yet, the Ministry continued with forest diversion for large projects as was the case in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

He pointed out that under the Act no forest dweller could be removed from his or her land until recognition of rights was complete. “Natural justice” required that forest lands on which other rights — such as minor forest produce — were exercised could also not be diverted.

The Act empowered forest dwelling communities to protect and conserve forests and gave Primitive Tribal Groups and pre-agricultural communities a right to their habitats.

“Forests, where communities have such rights or where they have declared their intent to protect, clearly cannot be diverted without the consent of the gram sabha of the concerned community,” Mr. Raja said.

Recommended for you