India

Forest Rights Act: Women from Gadchiroli to protest in Delhi tomorrow

Forest Rights Act: Women from Gadchiroli to protest in Delhi tomorrow

A group of women forest land rights activists from tribal-dominated Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra will Thursday take part in a protest march by forest dwellers from various states in New Delhi. Organised by Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM), the march will see representatives from women forest dwellers’ organisations from Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, who will highlight their concerns regarding their roles as forest conservers and managers, as well as the impact of the denial of their land rights on their livelihoods.

“Despite Gadchiroli district being one of the better performers in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, there are several cases wherein the case of community forest rights as well as individual forest rights, the administration has not given any written rejection of claims and has also not processed the claims, despite us having submitted these along with documents and proof as required by law,” said Kumaribai Jamkatan, one of the four women activists from Korchi taluka in Gadchiroli who are in Delhi for the demonstration.

Citing an example, she said Survahi village committee had sought community forest rights over 631 hectares of land, but officials were offering them rights to only land on which tendu leaves or bamboo was grown. “This is not as per law, which says we can demand CFR on forest land as per the nistarpatrak, the register of lands on which various community uses of government land are recorded,” Jamkatan said.

The protest march seeks to draw attention to the February 13 Supreme Court order directing eviction of lakhs of tribals whose claims had been rejected under the FRA. On February 28, the top court had temporarily stayed that order, giving the state governments time to file affidavits on whether due process had been followed in rejecting these claims. “For women, who have the deepest connection with the forest, the fear of violence is now real. Women go into the forest every day to collect leaves, flowers, fruits and other produce. Before the 2006 law, we were doing this in fear, as forest officials who stopped us would expect penalties in either cash or goods, a chicken or alcohol or some of the produce collected. The law enabled us to use the forest produce as a right. That now stands to change again,” Jamkatan said.

A 2017 report by advocacy group Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA), Maharashtra, showed that while across India, only three per cent of minimum potential of Community Forest Rights had been achieved in 10 years since enactment of the law, Maharashtra’s performance at 18 per cent total potential was better than all other states. Gadchiroli district showed more than 66 per cent potential achieved.

“On meeting the forest rights activists from the other states, who are here in Delhi for the protest, it appears that the issues are largely similar —non-implementation of the law or slow response from the administration to claims made under the FRA — but the difference is that Gadchiroli is somewhat better off. Our experience offers some learnings for the other states’ activists, and also strengthens their claims,” Jamkatan told The Indian Express from Delhi.