Tribals challenge forest department

For mining Tadoba tiger reserve

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Monday 15 March 2010

imageA tribal  village inside the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra has decided to sue forest authorities for mining sand and gravel from their community-owned (nistaar) land.

On January 26, the villagers of Kolsa held a gram sabha meeting where they passed a resolution to this effect. This was after the officials ignored Kolsa’s gram sabha notice asking them to pay a fine of Rs 11 lakh for mining from their nistaar  land.

Panchayat member of Kolsa, Kantabai Kudmethe, said forest department officials and contractors have been routinely extracting sand, gravel and boulders from their land for annual road repair work inside the tiger reserve. “In the process, they dig deep pits in the forest and damage trees,” she said.

The village gram sabha had imposed the fine in January 2009 after the villagers resolved to challenge the mining activity under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and the Maharashtra Gram Panchayat Act under which gram sabha’s consent is mandatory for activities on nistaar land. The villagers also sent a complaint to the district collector. In response, the forest officials demanded proof of ownership. Kudmethe said the village submitted a copy of the revenue map of the village which showed the land parcel—compartment 315—was a part of the village’s nistaar land. “Despite reminders, the authorities have not responded,” said Kudmethe.

Forest department officials said they have not received the gram sabha resolution. Assistant chief conservator of forests M Vivrekar said the forest records show the land parcel is forestland owned by the government. Villagers contest this. “The land inside the reserve is owned by the government, but this does not mean they can barge into land earmarked as nistaar,” said Baba Shidam, a villager. The villagers have also brought the matter to the notice of the Union minister of state for environment, Jairam Ramesh.

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