Autonomy for tribal communities in central India #indigenousrights


The Hindu : June 18, 2013

Right place, wrong arrangement

Sonum Gayatri Malhotra, 

Moving governance of tribal areas in central India from the Fifth to the Sixth Schedule will help address the demand for autonomy

(Sonum Gayatri Malhotra is with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

The targeted attack by Maoists in Chhattisgarh against the State Congress leadership in which V.C. Shukla, Mahendra Karma and the party’s other top leaders were killed has rekindled a familiar debate on the military aspects of counterinsurgency. However, the continuing cycle of violence in the State underscores the need for a closer examination of the social and political impact of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution through which the tribal areas of peninsular India are governed.

India’s population consists of 100 million tribal people who have constitutionally been addressed via two distinct avenues. The Fifth Schedule applies to an overwhelming majority of India’s tribes in nine States, while the Sixth Schedule covers areas that are settled in the northeastern States bordering China and Myanmar. Bastar district in Chhattisgarh is governed by the Fifth Schedule, but it wants to move into the Sixth Schedule.

The Sixth Schedule gives tribal communities considerable autonomy; The States of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram are autonomous regions under the Sixth Schedule. The role of the Governor and the State are subject to significant limitations, with greater powers devolved locally. The District Council and the Regional Council under the Sixth Schedule have real power to make laws, possibility on the various legislative subjects, receiving grants-in-aids from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the costs of schemes for development, health care, education, roads and regulatory powers to state control. The mandate towards Devolution, deconcentration and divestment determines the protection of their customs, better economic development and most importantly ethnic security.

The Fifth Schedule on the other hand fails because it has never been applied. Recent parliamentary moves to provide greater autonomy within the Fifth Schedule have not had the desired results. The 1996 PESA or Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act should have been a landmark for the tribal communities. It mandates the state to devolve certain political, administrative and fiscal powers to local governments elected by the communities. This became exclusive to the Fifth Schedule areas, to promote tribal self-government. PESA was meant to benefit not only the majority of tribals but also extended to cover minority non-tribal communities. It guarantees tribes half of the seats in the elected local governments and the seat of the chairperson at all hierarchical levels of the Panchayat system.

Samatha judgment

PESA was considered the most logical step in the Fifth Schedule areas to ensure tribal welfare and accountability. But, alas, it has not been properly implemented. Tribal communities have progressively been denied self-government and rights to their communities’ natural resources that should have been provided under the legislation. In its 1997 Samatha decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Schedule enjoined Governors to bar purchase of tribal land for mining activity by any entity that was not state-owned. This judgment however, led to an opposite reaction from the Ministry of Mines, and subsequent appeals from the Andhra Pradesh government claiming that Samatha would have an adverse effect not only on the mining sector but also on non-agricultural activities especially industrial activity and hence would impact the economic development throughout the country. In response, the Governors were then given unfettered authority in the transfer of Scheduled Tribe land to the government and allotment to non-tribals, altering the balance of power and undermining the stated goal of tribal autonomy.

Other examples abound, including the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Rights Act of December 2006, which ostensibly recognises the right of communities to protect and manage their forests (as does PESA), but only if the state decides whether a certain region is denoted as Village Forest or Reserved Forest. In this process, many communities are evicted without a proper channel of rehabilitation.

For these reasons, it is evident that PESA and the Fifth Schedule have been counterproductive, inconsistent in addressing issues regarding tribal rights and the propensity of failure justifies serious debates on the existing endeavours.

Many tribal voices are therefore demanding introduction of the Sixth Schedule in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, which would give them a special status to participate directly in governance as in the North East States currently under the Sixth Schedule.

Furthermore, the Sixth Schedule has certain features that can be implanted in any governance model for tribal areas, particularly concepts of constitutional and legislative subjects that are exclusive to local governments. An autonomous district council will give greater role in directing administrative requirements without depending on the Central State structure.

However, the working of a system is always different from the Idea of it. The Sixth Schedule that embodies autonomy has its own shortcomings; breakdown of laws, elections not being contested, rather than empowerment there is exclusion that fails to provide much-needed protection to tribes in the absence of political will, and, live by the mercy of government funds.

But in spite of the negatives underlying the Sixth Schedule, Bastar district envisages a true form of local bodies like the District Council and Regional Council that have provided a fair degree of autonomy.

(Sonum Gayatri Malhotra is with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

Odisha Government diluting apex court order: petitioner #Niyamgiri #Vedanta


BHUBANESWAR, June 11, 2013

Staff Reporter, The Hindu

 St

ate government continues to face widespread criticism over selection 12 villages for conducting of gram sabhas that would decide fate of bauxite mining in Niyamgiri hill.

Prafulla Samantra, an original petitioner of the case on which Supreme Court directed to hold gram sabhas for settlement rights under Forest Rights Act, on Monday wrote to Chief Secretary Bijay Kumar Patnaik alleging dilution of Apex Court order.

“The Apex Court verdict has been clearly ignored by the ST and SC Department of the State government as there has been an arbitrary decision while selecting 12 villages for conducting Gram Sabhas for which no convincing reason has been mentioned,” Mr. Samantra said.

He also charged that the State was trying to spread reign of terror in Niyamgiri Hill range before conduct of gram sabhas.

“Since a fake combing operation is going on in the area by security forces with the help and support of Vedanta, an atmosphere of fear and intimidation is prevailing over there which may badly affect the conduct of Gram Sabhas.

A couple of days back security forces allegedly fired at a group of young tribal children who were playing in the hills and one was reportedly killed. If such a situation continues no Gram Sabhas could be conducted in a fair way,” Mr. Samantra further alleged.

He urged the Chief Secretary to take urgent steps so that Gram Sabhas would be conducted in all affected places, and just not the ones prescribed by the administration.

The petitioner also requested the government to involve him in all the processes leading to conduct of gram sabhas as per Apex Court order.

Recently, Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs had told the State government that selection of 12 villagers for conducting gram sabhas was not in accordance of Supreme Court order.

MoTA Secretary Vibha Puri Das in a letter said the ministry was in receipt of copies of several claims under Forest Rights Act for various rights including religious and cultural rights claimed over Niyamgiri forests and sacred areas from villages over and above the 12 villages selected by the State Government.

 

#India – Face to Face: Kishore Chandra Deo, Union Mininster for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj


 

Akash Bisht Delhi

A five-time MP from Araku (ST) constituency of Andhra PradeshKishore Chand Deowas first elected to the Lok Sabha way back in 1977. He also served one term in the Rajya Sabha and was a member of the Congress Working Committee.  He was sworn in as theUnion Minister for Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj in 2011 and has also been a chairperson of several important parliamentary committees. In the wake of the cold-blooded murder of tribals in ChhattisgarhHardnews spoke to the veteran politician

 

Q | On May 17, eight tribals, including three children, were killed by the security forces in Ehadsameta in Bijapur district in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. This comes nearly a year after 17 innocent villagers were killed in cold blood by the security forces in Sarkeguda.

Last year, when it happened in Chhattisgarh, I had raised the matter with the appropriate authorities and had taken it up with the then Union home minister and also written to the state government. I can only say that this is most unfortunate because if innocent tribals start losing their lives in this manner then it will only create more resentment among them. This kind of action will further drive them into the arms of the extremists. I have said time and again that, to understand the reasons for the extremist problems, we have to get to the roots of it. I want to reiterate that the problem in these areas cannot be treated merely as a law and order one. The problems at the grassroots are far deeper. We have recognized the problems and created an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) for selected tribal and backward districts.

Exploitation is one of the biggest problems staring at tribal populations in these areas. The threat of mining is severe. If we talk about development then the UPA believes in inclusive growth and it means that the process of development should take along people from the poorest, exploited and marginalized sections of society.

Recently, I came to know about the exploitation of tribals in Mahan Coal Fields (Singrauli) in Madhya Pradesh. I got feedback from the locals that the district administration and main functionaries of panchayats have been manipulated by private miners. I am told that merely 15-20 people of the gram sabha had passed contrived resolutions. This was against the directions from the panchayati raj ministry that the gram sabha meetings have to be video recorded. It also goes against the directions of the tribal affairs ministry that community rights have to be recognized. A contrived gram sabha not allowing community rights to the tribals goes against every constitutional provision. This is the first time I was hearing that tribal communities do not want their rights. This is their mainstay and basic source of their livelihood; that is why I sent guidelines and circulars defining what community rights and resources mean. Thus, when such situations arise, you have such unfortunate events like what happened in Chhattisgarh.

Probably, it’s one of those incidents where force was used to tame the people, but this will only polarize people against the State. After all, the State has to gain the sympathy of the people and they have to realize and recognize their rights. The security forces have to be within the perimeters of the existing laws and if you keep flouting laws and conventions then this is what it will result in. This is very sad.

Q | It has been reported that the post-mortems of the dead tribals were being conducted in the open.

It is not only gory, it is inhuman and this is not the way you deal with your own citizens. Health and law and order are under the jurisdiction of the state government. This doesn’t mean that I am trying to play politics; these things have happened under Congress governments too. I have not spared my own party governments and chief ministers. This is not a party matter and is above politics. These situations, when they develop, become a threat to our nation’s security. It is beyond party matters. The states will have to take up the responsibilities and security forces have to restrain themselves when it comes to dealing with innocent people.

It’s no excuse to say that they were being used as human shields and hence they massacred them. Why were they being used as human shields? You have to go into the causes for that. Once you understand that then you can get to the root of the problem. I have discussed this with the present home minister and he understands this very well. He was totally in agreement with me that this is not the way to handle such situations. I will again be writing to the chief ministers, the home minister and environment and forests ministry. If mining clearances are given without the consent of tribals then you will only be antagonizing them. 

Q |There were protests and anger after the gangrape of a young girl in Delhi, but not many spoke about Soni Sori and how she was tortured and sexually assaulted by the Chhattisgarh police.

I was the one who took up her case. It was raised in the Rajya Sabha by an MP. There was an instance when AIIMS refused to admit her despite a court order. I ensured that she was admitted to the hospital and given proper treatment. We need to create awareness among people about their rights.

 

Q | There are reports that Operation Green Hunt is still being pursued by security forces.

If there are any such reports then I will take it up with the appropriate authorities. I am not opposing that certain operations need to be carried out in certain areas, but there has to be some cause. Going around in a trigger-happy mood and shooting innocent people is not the way to go about it.

 

Q |What role do these gram sabhas and panchayats play in tribal areas? Recent reports suggest that there has been an increase of 25 per cent in centrally sponsored schemes but India still ranks very low in the Human Development Index. The scenario is worse in tribal areas.

They play a very vital role in these impoverished regions and if gram sabhas are allowed to play their role, they will do it. The problem is similar to what I mentioned earlier in Mahan Coal Fields. The tribals wanted to file claims under the Forest Rights Act but their claims were not accepted by the local authorities. If you want to empower people, gram sabhasmust be held regularly. I have sent circulars and they need to be video recorded. Video recording is no big deal today and there are cameras available everywhere. Twenty years back they could have said that it is a utopian idea, but that is not the case now. This is to prevent contrived gram sabha resolutions; if people are allowed to play their roles, half of our problems will be solved.

Panchayati raj is a state subject and every state has its own Panchayati Raj Act. My job is to raise awareness, issue guidelines and monitor. Officially, guidelines have been issued. For instance, they need to hold four gram sabhas every year. I would be happy if they have 40, but they have to be genuine. If the state governments do not comply then there is very little that one can do. This year we have launched the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayati Raj Sashakti karan Abhiyan (RGPSA); this is demand-driven. The annual budget allocation for the panchayati raj ministry is Rs 300-350 crore. I have got Rs 6,200 crore from the Planning Commission for the Five Year Plan under RGPSA. That makes it close to Rs 500 crore annually. The Union ministry for rural development has agreed to give one per cent of its annual allocation because most of their schemes have to be implemented and channelized through the gram panchayats. It may be only one per cent for the rural development minister, but for me it is nearly Rs 1,000 crore, as his annual budget is Rs 99,000 crore per annum. So, in total, it makes Rs 1,500 crore a year which is substantial as compared to what I was getting earlier.

I am ready to give funds to strengthen the panchayati raj infrastructure. I have put some conditions and they have to comply with provisions of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution. First, they will have to hold elections within six months as prescribed by the Constitution. Then, they will have to devolve their funds, functions and functionaries and hold gram sabhas regularly. I have evolved this marking system where I will be marking them according to these constitutional provisions. States that will comply will get funds accordingly, and since all state governments want funds, so, I think. I will be able to convince them.

Another important thing is that I am not thrusting these funds for any specific purpose. One state may say that they have sufficient panchayat ghars and they don’t want money for that but they want money to pay salaries. I have asked them to give me plans and, based on the requirements, I plan to give them the money. The Union communications ministry has promised that they will give broadband connections to 2,46,000 panchayats in the country by 2014. In fact, they have already done it for 50,000 panchayats. In remote and tribal areas, where there is no power, we will have solar systems. So, the states that need money for computers or solar equipment, I will give them money. We have four software systems that many states are using and six more software systems have been developed and people are being trained. Once the training is over then the state governments will have 10 software systems to use. There will be social accounting and e-governance, and everything that is going on in these panchayats will be documented. This will help us monitor these schemes and take them forward. 

Q | Which are the states that are doing well?

There are certain states that have been doing well but nobody has devolved all the 29 items that are in Schedule 5 of the Constitution. Some states comply with 12, some with 14. States like Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka have been doing very well. In the last couple of years, Haryana has been lagging behind, but now it is performing well. I have started a trend of giving awards for the best performing states. Now, we are also giving awards to specific panchayats for good practices. All this is to sensitize them and give them incentives to make them aware. Recently, there was a Commonwealth Conference for local bodies in Uganda. Unfortunately, the ministry of external affairs made the urban development ministry as the nodal ministry, although the Commonwealth was keen that we participate. I wanted to send some panchayati raj representatives to the conference to give them a sense of empowerment.

 

Q |What about states that are performing below your expectations?

We have not made a list of that. Jharkhand is one such state that hasn’t had elections in 12 years; they had elections when Arjun Munda came to power. The elected representatives are there but what will they do if you don’t give them any funds or devolve any functions? I had written to the chief minister and had gone to Ranchi. Ultimately, the call has to be taken by them.

Another example is Jammu and Kashmir. They had elections after 12 years, but no functions have been given to these elected representatives. No funds are given to them for whatever reasons. They said that because of Article 370 they are not bound by the 73rd and 74thamendments. I said fine, they must be having a Panchayati Raj Act of their own so they should devolve powers according to that. That is not happening. In my state, Andhra Pradesh, there have been no elections in the last two years — hence, there are nopanchayats. So, whom do you talk to? I have been writing to them and there is a constitutional requirement that they have to do it in six months. Besides, this is a Congress-ruled state.  

Q | In north India, panchayats are feudal in nature and Dalits and minorities have no say in them. Similarly, in tribal areas, tribals have no say and local bodies are easily bought off by big business and multinationals. How do you counter this?

Gram sabhas have a special role to play in these areas under statutory provisions within the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. This was enacted by the central government in 1996. Fifteen years have passed, but, unfortunately, out of the nine scheduled states, only three have made rules. Six have not even done this and they have made their own rules. According to PESA all state governments have to amend their Panchayati Raj Act to see that they are compliant with PESA, but they have not done so. According to PESA, gram sabhas will not be in the panchayat level, but it will be held in every habitation. This is a clarification that I have sent to all state governments of the scheduled states.

Ultimately, they have to take the call. By empowering the gram sabha, we can give the people the role, however indirect it may be, to partake in the process of governance and development. This is one way to draw tribals into the mainstream and to make them feel that they are part of governance. This should get them out of these threats of taking to extremist ways.

In the scheduled areas, even if multinationals buy the panchayats, they cannot enter since there are constitutional provisions and safeguards under Article 244 and the Fifth Schedule. Constitutional safeguards and provisions cannot be overridden by resolutions of gram sabhas or panchayats and even by the devious methods deployed by the state government to flagrantly and blatantly overcome constitutional safeguards. This is totally illegal.

Governors have special powers, so I have written to governors of all scheduled states. I received a reply from the governor of Chhattisgarh. I have written to the governor of Odisha arguing that constitutional provisions have been totally violated in the case of Vedanta. It is a scheduled area and Vedanta is a private company which has no locus standi there. I have written to the governor of Andhra Pradesh who chose to abdicate his powers and rights and I had to take other action.

If you take the case of the Orissa Mining Corporation which is registered under the Companies Act, 1956, these are corporations that can’t take land in Schedule 5 areas. Irrespective of that provision they give land on lease to private companies like Vedanta. This is completely against the provisions of the Constitution. In recent times, there have been a number of cases where shares have been disinvested in such companies. Article 244 of the Constitution can only be amended by Parliament in the manner prescribed in Article 368 of the Constitution. Hence, by disinvesting and taking this surreptitious route, are they not subverting constitutional provisions and bypassing the authority of Parliament?

I have sent a letter based on the Supreme Court ruling on Vedanta. The Supreme Court, in its order, has mentioned about Article 144 (1), but they have not gone deep into the matter. Probably, the counsel who was arguing this case didn’t raise this. The counsel was from the ministry of environment and forests. By the time I became minister, it was too late for the tribal affairs to get involved in this case. But I did raise a lot of hue and cry and I saw to it that an affidavit from my ministry went to the Attorney General who gave it to the Supreme Court. That is the reason why they have made my ministry the nodal authority for looking at the Forests Rights Act and PESA compliances in the Vedanta case.

 

#India – Tribal affairs ministry `turning tables’ on SC order on Niyamgiri mining rights #WTFnews


English: An ethnic Wife of Dhaneshwaran from t...

 

 

, TNN | Jun 4, 2013,

 

NEW DELHI: Despite the Supreme Court‘s order, the village councils, or gram sabhas of the Dongria Kondh tribals may not be able to decide upon their traditional and religious rights against the mining interests of Vedanta. A narrow interpretation of the SC order by the tribal affairs ministry promises to turn the district administration into the final decision-making body and the village councils of the tribals as only a claimant of their rights.

The move could snatch away the village council’s rights to be final arbiters of their traditional and religious rights over the contentious Niyamgiri hills, and leave it in the hands of the state government to take the final call.

The apex court had ordered that the village councils to decide if mining of bauxite would impact the cultural and religious rights, besides impinging on the tribals’ livelihood. It had ordered the Centre and the Odisha government to facilitate a free and fair decision by the affected village councils.

The tribal affairs ministry moved quickly to ask the state government to ensure all village councils get a chance to vote and decide on the matter. The state government whittled down the list of villages involved to only 12, including five and seven in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, respectively.

Now, the tribal affairs ministry itself has limited the village council’s powers by suggesting that they can only entertain claims from the locals and convey their views, which would then be decided upon by the sub-divisional and district level panels set up under the Forest Rights Act(FRA).

The sub-divisional committee in Odisha consists of sub-collector as chairman, sub-divisional forest officer, three members of panchayat samiti and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary. The district-level committee is headed by district magistrate with divisional forest officer, three zilla parishad members and tribal welfare department officer as member secretary.

The panels are meant to form the three layers that determine the livelihood and land rights of the tribals, but the recent SC order had stated that village councils would decide on their cultural and religious rights and take a call on whether the project would be an impediment towards their privileges.

The subtle alteration in the reading of the order through a ‘training module’, which the tribal affairs ministry has prepared especially for the tribals ahead of crucial village councils’ vote, has vested power in the hands of the Odisha government.

The apex court verdict had given another route for tribals to protect their lands after the Union government shied away from defending the existing norms that require a direct consent from village councils before forestlands can be used by industries. But the precedent-setting verdict of the court could stand substantially diluted in the test case itself.

 

 

 

Tribals arrested, lathi-charged for demanding rehabilitation


Published on Down To Earth | Latest news, opinion, analysis on environment and science issues | India, South Asia (http://www.downtoearth.org.in)

 


Author(s):
Aparna Pallavi
Issue Date:
2013-5-28

Madhya Pradesh government starts dam construction without clearances

Twenty men and seven women from the tribal village of Chaukhand in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district were arrested while many others with them were brutally beaten up by police for protesting illegal construction of a dam on the Kharak river.

As per a press-note issued by the Narmada Bachao Andolan on May 26, the residents of the village, mostly Bhil and Bhilala tribals, were demanding compensation and rehabilitation, and had put a stop to the work at the dam site two months ago.

On May 26, sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Jitendra Singh Chouhan, along with 150 police personnel, arrived at village Choukhand with an earth-work machine and tried to start work on the dam forcibly, says the press note. When villagers tried to speak to the SDM, he ordered a lathi-charge.

Residents claim people were pulled out of their houses and beaten up. Those injured include Banchabai of village Choukhand who was breastfeeding her baby when she was pulled out, and two minor girls Kalibai and Phulbai who were trying to protect their father from beatings.

Cheated of compensation

Chitroopa Palit, activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, said the proposed dam is yet to receive statutory forest clearance under the Forest Conservation Act and environment clearance under provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act. Despite this, the state government started land acquisition for the dam in 2011; the structure will submerge seven villages in the Badwani and Khargone districts. Since July 2012, some people in villages Juna Bilwa, Kaniapani and Choukhand in Khargone district were forced to accept paltry compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre (0.4 hectare) against collector’s guidelines which put the compensation amount at Rs 1.60 lakh for non-irrigated land and Rs 3.20 lakh for irrigated land. The people were told they would be paid compensation in three instalments and if they protested they would be jailed till the completion of the project.

However, residents of four affected villages in Badwani district—Kamat, Kaniapani, Julwania and Muvasia—have been denied any compensation. These villages are located in reserve forest area, and some of the tribal residents have been given land rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) while others’ FRA claims are pending, informs Palit. Also, 150 families in  three villages in Khargone district, who were cultivating land under a common patta (land titles) in the name of a cooperative society since 1969, have also been denied rehabilitation because the society was disbanded in the late 1990’s and people do not have individual documents, she said.

The people, united under the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), have been demanding rehabilitation since 2011, and after the administration failed to fulfil their demand, they stopped the dam work, said Palit. She said that administration has taken advantage of the arrest of JADS activist Madhuri Krishnaswami [1] to stage this attack on the people.

Khargone collector Navneet Mohan Kothari denied that people were beaten up. “The people who beat up the workers on the dam site were arrested,” he said. Kothari refused to comment on the fact that the dam work has been started illegally without proper clearances and said that all project-affected people have been paid just compensation.

 


 

Download Report- Critical Observations on the Implementation FRA #Mustshare


The very enactment of the historic Forest Rights Act, 2006 by the Indian Parliament in the country
after the 60 years of India’s independence is a landmark constitutional reform. Campaign for
Survival and Dignity (CSD) played a vital role in mobilizing the tribals, forest dwellers and people’s
representatives at different levels in whole country and successfully got this Act passed by the Indian
Parliament which admitted for the first time in the history of India to have done historical injustice to
the tribals and forest dwellers before and after India’s independence. We believe that FRA aims at
reddressal of a numbers of problems arose due to the draconian Acts like Indian Forest Act, 1927 and
Land Acquisition Land, 1894 which were used to evict the tribals and the forest dwellers from their
homes and shelters like goats and cattle. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 not only revived the tribal self
governance regime in scheduled 5th area enforced by the Central PESA Act, 1996 but also it extended
the provisions of the PESA even to the non scheduled area(whole State) empowering the Village
Council, the Gram Sabha to decide over their fate and fate of their resources which has been upheld
by the Supreme Court, the highest Court of the nation in the Niyamgiri case on 18th April 2013.
All the State’s Apparatus has now to accept that “Gram Sabha” is the lowest unit or form of
“Government” having its own exclusive legislative, executive and judicial power and authority over
its stipulated areas like any other forms of Government at Block, District, State and Central level.
The FRA has also raised fundamental questions over the on-going Panchyatitaj systems;
representative system runs in different State and aims at implementation of direct democracy
sidelining the over empowered bureaucracy. Forest Rights Act, 2006 has also challenged the age-old
State hegemony over forest protection and conservation in the name of “scientific forest
management” and has strengthen the conservation regime handing it to the community people who
live and die in the forest.
As per the India State of Forest Report, 2011, the recorded forest area of the country is
769,538 km2, accounting for 23.41 % of the Country’s geographical area. The State of Odisha
constituting only 4.73 of India’s geographical area have around 7% of the total forest area of the
country. While the reserved forest is spread over 26329 km2 constituting 45.28%, Protected forest
spread over 15525 km2 constituting 26.70% and the Un-classed forest is found in 16282 km2
constituting 28% of the total forest area which is 37% of the total geographical area of the State.
However, as per the Odisha Government Report there is 15022058.35 acres constituting 39.16 % of
forest land in the State to its total geographical areas. It is reported that out of this 39.16 % of forest
land, the State Forest Department have 43.32 % of forest land including the reserved forest in the
State while around 52.26 % are Revenue forest land including the protected forest and rest 4.40 %
District Level Committee (DLC) forest land, the revenue land mentioned as DLC land in 1997 as per
the direction of the Supreme Court in connection with WP(c) No. 202/1995.
There is in total 8.21% of tribal population in India. Likewise the tribal population in Odisha
constitutes 22.13 % as per the 2001 census report mostly residing in the rural area. Also Govt. of
Odisha while targeting the implementation of the historic Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the State
referred the State of Forest Report, 1999 which stated that out of 46,989 villages in the State, there
are 29,302 villages located in close vicinity of forest which are to be covered under FRA. The GoO
also has estimated that out of 6420514 rural households, there are 1762342 ST households
constituting 27.44 % in the State. Besides, there is large number of Other Traditional Forest Dwellers
in the State depending on the forest for their subsistence needs to be covered under FRA. Besides,
Odisha has been the hub for the experiment of all the sensational issues in the country and always
been in the limelight of media may be for its ample deposit of mineral and natural resources or for
displacement, poverty, protest etc.

We believe that the effective implementation of this historic Act in its true letter and spirit would
definitely change the scenario of Odisha and resolve most of the socio-economic problems being
faced by the State including the problems of Outlawed Naxal. There has been much progress of
settlement of Individual forest rights of tribals and convergence of developmental progrmmes in the
State from last 2008 in comparison to the Other States of the country. However, still the State has
miles to go before reaching to the destination. After the enactment and implementation of the forest
rights act in the State, Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha is engaged in making forest
dwellers aware on FRA and actively watching the development and progress of FRA implementation
in the state. And whenever found loopholes in FRA implementation, we have appraised the GoO
through discussion and even through Protest Rally and Dharana. Besides, in many districts, the
different community based and civil society organizations affiliated to the CSD, Odisha have played
a vital role in facilitating forest dwellers in filing forest rights claim. Whenever and wherever we
found rights violations of FRA, we have rush the place, met with our aggrieved people and have tried
to resolve them discussing with the concerned SDLCs/DLCs. We also documented the violations
stories and have shared them with the SLMC and also with the media. We have had special Interface
and discussion with the SLMC on the various FRA implementation issues on 28th Feb 2009, 9th Jan,
2010 and 13th Jan, 2011 etc.
We appreciate Government of Odisha, especially the SCST Department for sincerely
bringing monthly FRA Progress and Status Report which is again unique in comparison to other
State of the country. We also sincerely appreciate the Department for bringing a number of positive
circulars, clarification, guidelines to facilitate the FRA implementation process in the State. Thanks
are also due to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt. of India for looking after the implementation of
the FRA in the State and guiding the State Government for its better implementation.
This “Critical Observations Report” is based on our involvement and experience in last 10
years of struggle and engagement in the grounds FRA implementation. We have been analyzing the
monthly FRA implantation Progress report, identified a number of issues and have appraised the
government of Odisha time and again to resolve them. Even the GoO has considered some of them
and have brought changes too i.e issuance of ST certificate by the Gram Sabha, segregation of CFR
titles distributed under Section 3(1) and 3(2) etc. Of course a lot more has to be done. This time, our
“Critical Observations and Comments” are made against the monthly “FRA Progress Report Table”
produced by the SLMC from last 2009. Basically the comments are based against the data shown in
different Columns of the latest “FRA Progress Report Table up to 30th April, 2013” and issues
involved therein with the information that we have from the grounds. Besides, we have requested and
sought more information and clarification on the status of other important forest rights recognized
under the forest rights act. We expect the GoO, especially the FRA Nodal SCST Department would
appreciate our efforts and act upon the issues being raised.
We are very much thankful to all of the individual members of the CSD, Odisha, and other
civil society organizations working on FRA in different districts of the State for sharing with us all
necessary information to complete this observation report. Hope, friends interested to know and
understand the various FRA implementation issues in the State of Odisha would find this “CSD,
Odisha’s Observation Report” useful one.
20th May 2013 CSD, Odisha
csdorissa@gmail.com

Download full report here

 

#India – Tribals set to decide Vedanta project’s fate #forestrights


, TNN | May 14, 2013

Tribals set to decide Vedanta project’s fate
The Supreme Court order has left it to the villagers to decide the fate of the Vedanta project, and the call revolves on whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.
NEW DELHI: The villages of Dongriya Kondh tribals around Odisha‘s Niyamgiri hills are likely to simmer again as the Centre and the state government along with civil society groups are planning to converge on the site for the proposed Vedanta bauxite mine.The Supreme Court order has left it to the villagers to decide the fate of the Vedanta project, and the call revolves on whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.

The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order the Odisha government to ensure the tribals can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.

Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – both experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.

Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order is underway in various wings of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing for an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.

Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled by higher echelons of power, or the state bureaucracy.

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas, who would get to vote, is perceived as a major challenge in the backdrop of heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.

The unusual promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — that the environment ministry had used to step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to underscore its credentials.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored brownie points with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the norms that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government, which has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.

The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA — a pro-tribal promise by the UPA — that he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.

 

Maharashtra to re-examine claims rejected under forest rights Act


Mumbai, May 10, 2013

Alok Deshpande, The Hindu 

Decision by Chavan comes after agitations by CPI(M), Kisan Sabha

Responding to the agitations by the CPI(M) and the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the Maharashtra government has agreed to re-examine around two-lakh rejected claims of land rights made under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

The re-evaluation will be first carried out in Thane and Nashik districts, which have the highest number of claims.

The decision was taken at a meeting held on April 17 in the office of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

According to government figures, till February 2013, 3,44,148 claims were received. Of these, 1,43,577 claims have been approved, while 1,97,600 requests have been rejected and 2,971 are still pending.

According to the minutes of the meeting available with The Hindu, Mr. Chavan has asked the organisations spearheading the agitation to prepare a list of applicants denied of land rights despite their having submitted two proofs mentioned under the Act.

“The list should be submitted to the District Collectors of Thane and Nashik, along with the copies of proofs. The Collectors should revaluate all these cases and take decision as per the rules,” directed Mr. Chavan. Which means, the government will now re-evaluate 1,97,600 rejected claims.

The Act grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities. Those who are cultivating the land prior to December 13, 2005 but do not have documents can claim the land. The upper limit of the claim has been set as four hectares.

Interestingly, of the total rejected claims, only 50,466 have been dismissed at the gram sabha level, while 1,76,456 have been rejected at the sub-divisional committee level.

“This is where the problem lies. The gram sabhas’ decision becomes meaningless when the Act has clearly given them the authority of receiving claims, consolidating and verifying them. The upper committees are clearly violating the gram sabhas’ rights,” said Ashok Dhawale, secretary, Maharashtra CPI(M) State Committee. Last month, the party launched an agitation in Thane and Nashik districts by blocking the highways, demanding re-evaluation.

Dr. Dhawale said: “The claims are getting rejected because the government officer, instead of going on a field survey, sits in the office and decides. The claims are being transferred to the Forest department for approval, which is not permitted as per the Act.”

Despite the Act clearly stating that there should be no direct involvement of the Forest department in granting or rejecting the claims, a letter from the Chief Forest Conservator, dated July 18, 2008, was used to supervise the entire procedure of claims. The letter now stands cancelled after the meeting at the CMO.

Taking a note of allegations, the government has made it clear that apart from the gram sabha, the sub-divisional committee and the district-level committee no other committee should interfere in the matter.

 

Villagers’ bid to decide Vedanta project fate puts Niyamgiri hills on radar


By Nitin Sethi, TNN | 10 May, 2013
NEW DELHI: The villages of DongriyaKondhtribals around Odisha‘sNiyamgiri hills are set to become a flash point again, with the Centre and the state government along with civil society groups planning to converge on the site of the proposed Vedanta bauxite mine. Emboldened by the Supreme Court order, the villagers are to decide the fate of the Vedanta project and take a call whether the venture would affect their religious and other rights.

The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order Odisha to ensure the tribal group can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaikgovernment to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified and given the opportunity to decide the project’s fate.

Civil society groups too have begun to mobilize their own resources – experts and manpower – to make sure there are third party observers at the site, which has been turned into a fortified and well policed zone by the state government ever since the row erupted.

Battle-lines have been drawn among the Centre, Odisha government and corporate interests over the high-profile project. The interpretation of the rules and the court order has started in earnest within various quarters of both central and state government. One section has begun pushing an interpretation of the apex court order that would reduce the number of tribal village councils that would get to decide the venture’s fate.

Another set within the government has tried to interpret the law and the SC order to suggest that the tribal gram sabha can only put forth claims about their rights – religious or otherwise – but they would have to be settled at a higher level, where the state bureaucracy wields power and influence.

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas that do get to vote is expected to be as critical as the freedom with which the village councils do get to meet finally amid heavy state ‘bandobast’ and the judicial monitoring that the apex court has ordered.

The extra-ordinary promptness and enthusiasm shown by the tribal affairs ministry in this case has as much to do with the apex court’s verdict as the ministry’s need to be seen aligned with the drift of the Congress leadership on the case. After it had come out standing by the PMO in favour of dilution of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — something the environment ministry had used to finally step back in favour of partial dilution of tribal rights over forests — the tribal affairs ministry is bound to pounce on this one single case to prove its credentials.

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored a point or two with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the rather innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA’s decision to block Vedanta’s mining rather than the regulations that empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government that has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances.

The occasion of Dongriya Kondh tribals voting has presented tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo the opportunity to reassert his primacy over the FRA, a UPA pro-tribal promise he had earlier led from front in the party to get through Parliament.

 

Tribal affairs ministry gets cracking on apex court’s order on Vedanta #goodnews


Author(s):
Kumar Sambhav S…
Issue Date:
2013-5-2

Odisha government gets a slew of orders to ensure the order is properly implemented

The ministry of tribal affairs seems to have pulled up its socks to ensure the Supreme Court’s order in the Vedanta case is properly implemented on ground. In a letter to the Odisha government on May 2, the ministry directed the state to facilitate the gram sabhas affected by the proposed bauxite mining project on Niyamgiri hills to decide—independently and in a transparent manner—the veracity of religious and cultural rights claimed by the tribal people on Niyamgiri hill. It has issued several legally binding directions under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) to the Odisha government and has prescribed a timeframe for the entire process.

On April 18, the Supreme Court ordered [1] that village councils in Odisha’s Rayagada and Kalahandi districts would decide if projects of the metals and mining giant,Vedanta, have infringed the tribal communities’ right to worship. The court made it clear that the religious rights of the tribals must be protected. It also asked the gram sabhas to consider afresh—under FRA—all other individual and community claims of the tribals.

The ministry has now asked the Odisha government to issue advertisements in newspapers, including those in vernacular languages, asking all the tribals and traditional forest dwellers in Kalahandi and Raygada districts to file claims of religious and cultural rights, along with the individual and community rights under the FRA. The ministry has also asked the state to display this notification along with the details of the SC order in all villages in the two districts irrespective of their proximity from the mining site. “This will ensure that there is no allegation of subjectivity in the selection of palli sabhas (gram sabhas) where the meeting will be finally held as per the direction of the Supreme Court,” the letter says.

The ministry has asked the state to prepare a list of all the villages near the mining site and on the Niyamgiri hills where tribal people have made claims of traditional rights. It has given the state government 20 days to prepare the list.

The selected gram sabhas will then have to be sensitised by the state with the help of independent experts working on tribal rights as guaranteed by the FRA as well as by the SC judgement. The decision on the claim will be taken by the gram sabha in presence of a judicial officer, as per the court’s directions.

The ministry has directed the state to involve non-profits in the process to make it transparent. It has also asked the state to submit the audio and video recordings of the gram sabha meetings—replete with all the resolutions passed by the village body—to it right after the meetings. A Bhubaneswar-based analyst said the ministry’s move was welcome because the company has started dividing the community. “A few people who have got some benefits from the project might try to manipulate the whole community. Rights activists are already facing problems in having access to the affected villages. The ministry’s action is certainly timely. Now it it needs proper follow-up,” he said.

Source URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/tribal-affairs-ministry-gets-cracking-apex-court-s-order-vedanta