Forest Department Taking Avenge of the Forest Rights Act: Forest Dwellers Harassed on Entering Forest

It took 60 years to the Indian parliament to admit the ‘historic injustice’ done to the Scheduled Tribes and forest dwellers in this nation. Prolonged clamoring by people’s movement for giving ownership rights over forestland to traditional forest dweller got ear as the Indian Parliament passed “The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006”. Amidst the vehement opposition by the forest department the act has been implemented since January 2008.

With the implementation of this act the forest department along with its so-called ‘environmentalists’ have started scheming for negating the ownership rights of forest dwellers. Certainly, passing of this act have developed insecurity in the forest department concerning its hold on the forestland. Consequently, to retain fear among forest dwellers for preventing them from exercising their rights the forest department have increased vigilance in the forestland. Since January 2008 the reports and cases of increased vigilance of forest officials and inflicted atrocities on forest dwellers are coming oft-frequently from the fields.

The forest rights act have provided a rightful access to collect ‘minor forest produce’, including Bamboo, Honey, Tendu leaves, herbs, medicinal plants etc. from forestland. But forest dwellers are harassed and prevented by forest department for doing so.

On 28th February 2008, the forest officials violently attacked Sukhu Baiga, Maansingh Baiga, Sukhman and Nandlal Yadav in Madmoh village, Kisli Bhilwani panchayat, Mandla when they were returning from the forest after collecting bamboo. While the other three people ran away Nandlal Yadav got caught up. Until he fell unconscious they kept thrashing him brutally. Nandlal was arrested under the Wild life Protection Act, 1972 in the unconscious state and is still perishing in the police custody. His only crime is that he was collecting bamboo for covering his house’s roof.

The echoes of this incident are heard in other areas as well. Nayan Singh, vice-sarpanch, Katanga panchayat, Mandla shares plight and fear among his native villagers. He says, “Due to the increased vigilance of forest officials and reported cases of atrocities on baiga and other forest dwellers villagers are scared of accessing forests. Summer is at its height and we are not even allowed to collect bamboo from forest for covering the roofs”. Left with no other option the villagers have even requested the forest department to pile bamboo at their check post and let them collect it from there. But forest officials have denied it out rightly.

Feeble voices of similar stories are coming from forest villages of Balaghat district as well. Village Kadla, Baihar block, is situated inside the Kanha national park in Balaghat district. Pavan singh, a 21 year old baiga man from this village is harassed and threatened by forest officials as he has collected bamboo from the forests and covered his house’s roof with it. He explains, “Since last four months there has been increased vigilance of the forest officials. This year we are not even allowed to collect bamboo and grass for covering our home in scorch summer. I clandestinely collected some bamboo but the forest officials have now fined me with Rs. 4,000 for this. They have threatened to sue me on nonpayment of the fine amount”. Earlier the forest dwellers used to get bamboo without any cost but now they have to purchase it from market at Rs. 7 per bamboo stick.

Certainly, the hopes of ensured ownership of forest dwellers on their forestland kindled by the forest rights act is quivering by the bizarre ways adopted by forest department and the lobby opposing it. It seems that the challenges are immense.

Chandni Tyagi Mandla

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