Forest rights and wrongs in Sonbhadra

Forcible eviction of tribals in Sonbhadra exposes forest rights faultlines

By Alok Kumar Gupta
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageFOUR months pregnant Lalita Devi coiled herself to escape the blows of heavy sticks. She was bewildered why each blow was directed at her belly.

Men in khaki were ruthless till she fell unconscious. After five hours she found herself outside the Kone police station.

“I was lying in a pool of blood. My seventh child was never born,” she said. Lalita was among the 90 families demanding the right to land inside Magardaha forest and an end to corruption in logging. The families said the forest officials, along with nearby villag ers and some police officers, forcibly ev icted them from the forest in Sonbha dra district of Uttar Pradesh on March 16. They alleged the eviction was planned, though the trigger was their protest over tree felling, which they said had been going on illegally for long. The residents of Magar da ha had detained a tractor carrying logs for a week when a cro wd attacked them.

The majority of the residents belong to the Chero tribe and Scheduled Castes. They collect tendu leaves and do farming. Some have documents issued by the sub-divisional magistrate’s (SDM’s) office certifying that the land inside the forest belongs to their forefathers. The families say they shifted to the forest in 2000 from Karail, Kachnarwa and Sagersuti villages.

The forest department denies their claim. R K Chaurasia, divisional forest officer (DFO), Obra range, said they settled in 2007. The department records show the settlers as encroachers.

Land rights at the root of unrest Residents of Magardaha say they have been complaining to the forest department about illegal felling of trees for nine years. The trouble started when they began filing applications to claim the land under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) notified in 2007. The Act gives legal holding to those settled in forests before 2007. “The attitude of the department changed,” said Ram Khela wan, 85. It began instigating nearby villagers whom it employs to cut trees and to ferry quarried stone, the tribals alleged.

Forest guards in khaki and villagers razed the thatched huts, tied the hands of men behind their backs, beat them with sticks and boots and assaulted the women, they added. “They took away our cattle,” said Ram Ghulam. The tribals had about 80 cows and 100 goats.

The settlers spent the night outside the Kone police station. Officers at the police station refused to file an FIR, they said. The government hospital at Robertsganj denied treatment to Lalita, who lost her child. “Doctors demanded a copy of the FIR and refused to treat her,” said Ram Ghulam. Most tribals have taken shelter in Karail village.

Once land is allotted tribals won’t allow illegal felling of trees. This will hamper forest officials’ income. Guards have orders to give minimum possible land to tribals
Member, state-level committee monitoring FRA
Budhinarayan Toppo, a member of the state-level committee that monitors implementation of the Act, said the attitude of the forest department appeared dictatorial; it does not want to give land rights to forest dwellers. Toppo has had several meetings with the district and forest officials. “Once land is allotted the department will have to increase surveillance to check encroachment. Most crucial, the tribals will not allow illegal felling of trees. This will hamper officials’ illegal income,” said Budhinarayan.

Encroachers or legal settlers?

DFO Chaurasia blamed a few activists for instigating tribals to encro ach on forestland to exploit the Act. He gave a new twist to the clash by claiming it was a result of a rift between the settlement in Magardaha and Satdwari village. Residents of Satdwari accept they helped the tribals and dalits settle in the forest, but maintain a silence on when.

Inderdev Yadav and Magru of Satdwari said the villagers had harmonious relations with the settlers, but the tribals insulted a sage in the village and that led to violence and eviction.

Satdwari residents’ version of the evicti on puzzled the fact-finding team that visited Sonbhadra after the violence. The team was organized by the Delhi Solida rity Group, a coalition of activists, on the request of the Kaimur Kshetra Mah ila Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (KKMMKSS) that has been mobilizing tribals and dalits in the region to reclaim forest rights. “When we asked the villagers why forest officials did not come to end the violence, a van daroga (a forest department employee) emerged from the crowd to give an explanation. We understood what was happening,” said Surendra Nischal, the head of the department of sociology at JV Jain College in Saharanpur.

Social groups and non-profits active in the region are making conflicting claims. Bindu Singh, regional vice-president of the Uttar Pradesh Grameen Khetihar Majdoor Union, claimed the residents of Magardaha were encroachers who were given false hope of acquiring land by a few groups. It resulted in violence because people in the area protested illegal settlement, she said.

Roma Mallick, campaign coordinator of the National Forum of Forest People, opposed the claim, saying the tribals settled in Magardaha in 2000. She demanded an independent inquiry into the violence. “Why are they shying away from inquiry?” asked Mallick, also associated with KKMMKSS. “The forest department created the rift between tribals of Magardaha and people in nearby villages. It is in no mood to part with land.”

FRA: not easy to implement

On paper the role of the forest department in implementing the Act might be restricted, but in reality it is powerful.

Under the Act, a 15-member Forest Rights Committee (FRC) is set up in every village. FRCs forward the applications claiming land rights to the committee at the SDM level. In the SDM committee, the forest department is just a member. The committees and land approval are under the jurisdiction of the welfare department. Toppo alleged land verification— though the duty of the administration— is done by forest guards. “Guards apparently have orders to give minimum possible land to tribals,” he alleged.

In Sonbhadra the administration is relying heavily on the forest department for verification. Villagers know it is the forest guards who are responsible for a number of letters issued by SDMs refusing or reducing the land claimed. Of the 64,671 applications received by the SDMs in Sonbhadra district till May end, nearly 87 per cent (55,980) were rejected.

Only 9,725 applicants got land rights; several over an area much less than applied for. In Katuandhi village half the tribal population is angry, said members of the state-level monitoring committee. Take the case of Raj Bali, who said he owns three hectares (ha).

His application was processed by the committees but the forest department rejected it. Kaushlaya said the department has reduced her land from nearly two ha to a 20th part of a hectare. “A forest guard came to inspect the land. He submitted false information to the SDM,” said the mother of four children who lost her husband three years ago.
FRC members say random allotment of land is an attempt to divide the tribals and turn them against FRCs. “There are two options in front of me. I should either quit the post or face the triba ls’ ire,” said Dharmendra, an FRC member and pradhan of Kata undhi. “The FRC is toothless. The administration has given all powers to the forest department and there are no criteria for allotment of land.”

Forest officials alleged FRCs take money to allot the land or increase the measurement. A senior forest official also blamed social organizations and NGOs for impeding the implementation of the act. One cannot blindly trust the applications filled by FRCs, he said. “We have rejected applications after physical verification,” Chaurasia added. In case forest dwellers do not have documents, the department establishes claims by looking for signs like bunds, wells, grazing and burial ground that show people have been living at a particular place for years.

GPS: half a solution

Fed up with claims and counter-claims over land allotment, the forest department and the district administration ha ve decided to go for a GPS survey. Th ey are carrying out the survey in Markandi, Baldia and Kone villages. The administration is trying to extend it to the entire district. “FRC and the GPS data together will quash all conflicts,” said Pandhari Yadav, the district magistrate. The GPS survey will, however, not differentiate between the new and old settlers. “It is easy to identify old settlers but new settlers become a controversy, sa id an official in the Sonbhadra SDM office.”

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  • a very simple software and

    a very simple software and dated remote sensing fotographs, as demonstrated by mr. jha , director ,tribal research institute of maharashtra can put to rest all the controversies and claims in settling forest rights, many of whom are fake claims instigated by "bleeding hearts" like roma.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply


    The worst fears of environmentalists and conservationists about the gross misuse of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 - also known as Forest Rights Act (FRA) - have come true. The Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserve Forest of Yawal forest division in Jalgaon district has become the first victim of large-scale forest encroachment in the state.

    We are not against this great Act. Land should immediately handover to the real claimer; but massive encroachment & massive illegal claims also found in Jalgaon district. Unfortunately, this is happening very systematically, and well-organizingly. Before submitting the claim encroachers’ girdling the standing trees, burning the stumps and extending their agricultural land. A sample survey in Chopda Taluka conducted by School of Environment, a Jalgaon based voluntary organization. The situation is also worst in Yaval taluka of Jalgaon district.

    General Observations:

    1. The most worst situation found in Adavad Compartment No.193-198 (Claims-231) , Vagzira-Compartment No.146,140 ( claims-96), Moharala-Compartment No. 139 to 143, 145, (claims-187), Vargavan Compartment No.155,192 (claims-150), Vardi- Compartment No. 24 ( Claim-29) . In all these compartments of Chopada taluka encroachers has been destroying forest rapidly from last six months.

    2. Major cases of violation of the act also filed in local police station (Adavad) of Chopada Taluka regarding mass & illegal encroachment in Vagzira,Khirdi,Adavad, Shekhamal, Vaizapue .

    3. There are fighting between Khairkundi Para & Devziri villages on Compartment No 166 of Devziri. People of both the area claiming on this site. Deforestation still continues from both the side in compartment no. 166.

    4. Situation in Gadrya, Jamnya, Usmali, Nimdya, Garbardi and Langda Amba ( labour camp) of Yaval sanctuary is also very explosive. People of Madhya Pradesh continuously have attacking on local tribal through TIR-KAMTA. Various cases also file in Yaval police station regarding this matter. Local tribes are under tension & fear in this particular region.

    5. The majority of the community in Yawal sanctuary is Barela & pawarya in the surrounding forest. Both the communities have great affection towards agricultural land and ready to even die, if any officers try to evict their encroachment. Some people prefer to go jail happily but request forest staff to took an offence on forest record in the hopes that they will be able to get their claim after 20 years( When some Government will take decision of regularizing encroachment )

    6. Satpuda ranges have great history of rich flora and fauna has come under severe threat due to encroachment encouraged by the FRA.


    Following Claims in Chopda taluka rejected in Local Levels in ( Panchnama) , but deforestation still continued in related comportment.

    Sr. No. Name of Village

    Number of Claimer Compartment No.

    1 Khirdi 22 192

    2 Karjane 12 223

    3 Mulyavatar 2 224,225

    4 Morchida 4 276,278

    5 Varad 3 49, 50

    6 Melane 10 218,212,245,172

    7 Umarti 57 317, 210, 116, 220, 274, 253, 254, 270, 278

    8 Satrasen 44 267, 287, 281

    9 Devziri 91 166, 168, 169, 138,212,172,170,172, 109, 138,

    10 Malapur 29 232, 209, 206, 211, 234, 235, 233,205,199,208,288,199

    11 Marathe 55 286, 287,

    12 Vargavan 158 155

    13 Boranjati 65 228, 229

    14 Moharad 1 19

    15 Bidgaon 31 34, 37, 32, 31,19,17,18,31,38

    16 Kundyapani 91 36, 154, 38,48,49,37,41,17

    17 Amalvadi 1 274

    Satpuda ranges have great history of rich flora and fauna has come under severe threat due to encroachment encouraged by the FRA.

    Some photographs (June-16, 2010) with the compartment No. given below.

    Prepared by. Rajendra Nannaware

    Convenor: Satpuda Bachav Kruti Samiti.

    Photograophs: Abhay Ujagre, President :

    Khandesh Nature Conservation Society, Jalgaon

    Address: (School of Environment,

    41-42 Shahu Complex, Jalgaon,) Phone No. 0257-2234394, Mob.09823106663,

    Compartment No.225 Vaijapur

    Vaijapur Compartment No.225

    Compartment No. 279 Karjane

    Karjane, Kampartment No.279

    Jiraitpara, Compartment No.216

    Jiraitpara, Compartment No.216

    Devhari, Compartment No.170

    Devhari, Compartment No.170 ( Karwa Method burning tree)

    Devziri, Comprant No.169

    Devziri, Compartment No.169

    Devziri, Compartment No.166 ( Claim of two Village –Devziri &

    Devziri, Compartment No.166


    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • van adhikar kanoon ka aana ek

    van adhikar kanoon ka aana ek etehasik ghatna h jo adivasion aur jungle par nirbhar rhne wale samudayon ke ek lambe sangharsh ka parinam h.
    Iski vyakhya karna jungle se itar rhne wale logo k liye shayad namumkin sa h.
    Shehri kshetron mein rhne wale bahut se log inme maddad krne k liye jate hn, unme bahut se log apne neeji swarth ko sarwoparya mante hn aur kuch log vastavik roop se judne ki koshish krte hn lekin adivasi ka jo jungle se rishta h uski teh tak pahunchna inme se kisi k bas ka nhi hta.
    Darasal adivasi ki zameen se uska rishta theek aise hta h jse ek navjaat shishu ka apni maa k stan se.
    lekin fir bhi kuch shehr mn rhne wale log smjhne ki koshish krte hn.
    Alok gupta ka yeh lekh usi ka parinam h jo ki bebaki se diya gya ek byan bhi h!
    tharu adivasi mahila majdur kisan manch
    dudhwa national park
    palia kalan khiri

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • The facts in this article has

    The facts in this article has perhaps raised very pertinent issue involved in the implementation of Forest rights Act i.e the feudal role of Forest Department existing in the forest areas. There are various complication involved in the implementation of this act, as pointed out by writer through investigating this case. The intention of the act is to mitigate the ÔÇ£historical injusticesÔÇØ inflicted during the colonial regime on the forest dwelling communities. FRA is the question of attaining the democratic and political space by the disadvantaged and deprived communities which is being resisted by the vested interests who wants to maintain status quo. FRA is basically a tool in the hands of forest communities to reassert their lost political space, whether they will get their land or not is a different matter. This assertion of power to challenge the State is what is disturbing ruling class and ruling bureaucracy in these backward regions. In the areas like sonbhadra the subaltern classes are challenging the state and its power not with the help of Maoists but with their own raised consciousness. The act grants the power to the forest communities their right over their own land, it is not land distribution programme but vesting of rights of forest dwelling communities. The agrarian reforms measures that should have been adopted during independence in the forest areas were never carried out, Forest department (FD) acquired huge amount of revenue land after independence becoming the biggest ÔÇ£landlordÔÇØ of independent India. And in last two decades it was the corporate sector that encroached upon the forest lands illegally, through manipulating the land records.

    The question is whether FD has measured its land in last 64 years using GPS? The answer is no. why this technology was not used in demarcation of the lands which are under massive disputes between revenue and forest department? Why GPS is not being used in demarcating the sec 4 and sec 20 lands? This technology will not be used there since it will expose the land grab programme of FD. Any technology controlled by FD will again land up into massive manipulation of land records as this is the very department responsible for the historical injustices and people have no faith on them. Use of technology in land measurement needs to evolve through new institutions that should be in control of local people and affordable. It is important to first correct the huge mess of land records than only machines like GPS will work.

    The credential of an anonymous person giving the comment is doubtful. The debate should be healthy and openly done in public domain, personal slandering will not help resolving the issue.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Priye sampadak ji

    Priye sampadak ji
    mai dudhwa national park khiri UP ke ek gaon ka rehne wala tharu adivaasi hu, surma gaon jo ki pichle 32 saalon se jab se dudhwa national parrk bana hai apne astitwa ko bachane ke liye sangharsh kar raha hai. 2003 jise resettel karne ke adesh HC dwara bhi diye ja chuke hain. lekin aaj vanadhikar kanoon(FRA) ke tehet rajaswa gaon me badalne ki prakriya shuru ho chuki hai. zameenon ki paimaish ka kam pura karke claim kiye ja chuke hain. yeh sab un sangharshon ki vajha se ho paya hai jise hamne Roma ji aur rashtriye van jan shramjivi manch ke sathiyon ke sath milkar kiya hai. pichle 15 saalon se lagatar ROMA is sangharsh me hamare sath kandhe se kandha milakar chal rahi hain. kisi sarfire dimag dwara apna naam diye bina unke liye bieeding heart jaisa apshabd istemal karna us agyat vyakti ki apni kuntha ko hi darshata h. yeh bhi jankari dena chahunga ki Roma UP ki state level monitering commeti me vishesh amantrit sadasya hai aur central review committi me visheshagye sadasy ke roop me naamit hain.kisi ke liye koi bhi shabd apne frustretion ke karn koi bhi istemal kar sakta hai lekin apki patrika pratishthit patrika hai aap dwara aise patron ko jagha dena jinme lekh ke bare me tippni na hokar vyaktigat hamla kiya gaya ho veh bhi agyat reh kar zyada gambhir baat hai. is baat ka dhyan zaroor rakha jana chahiye. dhanyevaad
    Ramchandra Rana(Member:state level monitring committi FRA UP)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • No need to pay attention to

    No need to pay attention to this comment. A person who does not have courage to put his name is not worth any attention...three cheers for Roma....

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply