Hundreds of forest dwellers reach Delhi to demand rights

The hearing into the case regarding the Forest Rights Act will take place on November 26

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 21 November 2019
Protestors at the rally in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on November 21. Photo: Ishan Kukreti

Ahead of the November 26 hearing in the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, case in the Supreme Court, hundreds of forest dwellers from across the country protested at Jantar Mantar on November 21, 2019 for the proper implementation of the Act.

Protesters had come from Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

“This mobilisation is important before the hearing. The message should go to the law makers that forest dwellers will not tolerate injustice,” Ashok Chaudhary, general secretary of All India Union of Forest Working People, said.

In the ongoing hearing in the apex court, as many as eight states in their affidavit have said that they did not follow the procedures laid down under FRA when rejecting claims.

“I had filed the claim in 2008, but I was not told the status of my claim. Every time I asked the officials, they told me to wait. It was only after the Supreme Court order of 2019 that I was told my claim has been rejected,” Kanjiri Solanki of Bomnali village in the Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh, said.

Under FRA, a claim has to be filed at the Gram Sabha Level Committee. After this, the claim goes to the Sub-divisional Level Committee and is finally either approved or rejected by the District Level Committee.

If a claim is rejected at any level below the District Level Committee, the authorities have to send a written communication of the same to the claimant. On the basis of this communication, the claimant has the right to appeal against the rejection.

“These provisions of the FRA, which empower people to appeal against rejection, haven’t been followed by the states. Instead of applying the law keeping in mind the historical injustice meted out to people, it is being applied with utter bureaucratic apathy,” Manshi Asher of Himdhara, a Himachal Pradesh-based non-profit working on FRA-related issues in the state, said.

The protest at Delhi on November 21 was the culmination of the protests held in many states in the past two weeks.

“In the past week, the protest held in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu etc and the upcoming election in Jharkhand led the government to withdraw the proposed amendments to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The Delhi protest is more symbolic,” said CR Bijoy of Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national forum for forest dwellers which was active in getting FRA implemented in 2006.  

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