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Forest departments claim they are encroachers
THE forest departments of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are forcibly evicting tribals from forestland. Around 50 huts of the Korku community in Madhya Pradesh were demolished on August 29. On July 30, forest guards assaulted tribals of the Kunbi community for cultivating in forestland in Dang district in Gujarat.
The tribals had occupied around 100 hectares (ha) in the Sawaligadh range of Betul (West) forest division in Madhya Pradesh. They said they were using the land for planting fruit-bearing trees for the past seven years. “On August 29 morning, around 200 forest guards, 100 armed police and 200 non-tribal residents came and asked us to vacate our houses. We pleaded with them to give us some time as it was about to rain, but we were dragged out,” a tribal said. According to onlookers, the officials had also brought JCB excavators but did not use them since mediapersons were present.
In a similar incident, forest guards in Hanuvat Pada village in Dang beat up three members of the Kunbi community while they were cultivating forestland. The tribals suffered severe injuries and were hospitalised for a week. “I was ploughing when 12-13 people came and started beating me with sticks. They said I should not be seen on the field or I would face dire con-sequences,” said one of the victims.
The forest department and members of the Forest Rights Committee of neighbouring Jarsod village have been forcing villagers of Hanuvat Pada to leave the land, claiming it falls in Jarsod’s range, said another victim. The three victims filed a complaint with the police against the beat guard of Jarsod range. They claim they have been cultivating the forestland for the past eight to nine years.
B Suchendra, district forest officer of Dang, said he was not aware of the incident.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 gives forest-dwelling tribal communities rights over forestland they have occupied since or before December 13, 2005. Anurag Modi of Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, a non-profit working for tribal rights in Betul, said, “Section 4(5) of FRA prohibits evicting forest dwellers from their possession in forestland till the verification and recognition processes under the act are completed.”
“The tribals were not served any notice under Indian Forest Act section 80(A), which is mandatory before any eviction,” he added.
Rakesh Bhushan Sinha, Chief Conse rvator of Forests (Betul), though, said the tribals were encroachers. He claimed the area’s satellite images show there were no dwellers on the land before December 13, 2005. “We had served them a notice in July to which they did not reply. We also served them an eviction order in August,” he said. “I met them personally and told them that their demands were illegal. We had to take this step as an increasing number of people were entering the villages and expanding the encroachment,” he added.
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