Eviction, blocking access to forest rights could have been major bugbears
After three consecutive terms in Chhattisgarh, the Bharatiya Janata Party ceded control of the legislative assembly, underscoring the disgruntlement that has been brewing for some time now among members of scheduled tribes in the state.
The eviction of tribals from forest area, blocking access to forest produce and related issues have been raised by various organisations in the state in the run up to the elections.
In the state’s tribal belt, the Congress was leading in 16 constituencies while the BJP was ahead in only one. The Grand Old Party led in all 12 seats reserved for STs in the Bastar region.
“The tribals in the state have voted against the BJP. Even former forest minister Mahesh Gagda is trailing from the Bijapur constituency,” says Gautam Bandopadhya of Nadi Ghati Morcha, a Raipur-based non-profit working on tribal issues. Non-implementation of The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, and forest rights made the government seem anti-tribal, he adds.
Issues related to non-timber forest produce (NTFP) and their relation to women too seem to have played a role, according to experts. The turnout of women voters was higher than men in as many as 24 of the state’s 90 seats.
“Women play an important role in the tribal economy. They are the ones who collect the NTFPs. Policies adopted by the government that erect road blocks to NTFP collection were not taken kindly by women voters,” says Alok Shukla, convener, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.
He cited the example of policies related to Mahua: initially its collection was banned, then the minimum support price was reduced. The measures were rolled back after protests, but voters remembered the government’s stand and did take kindly to it.
The Congress was leading in 61 seats in the state while the BJP was ahead in 14, at 4.15 pm according to the Election Commission of India website.
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