Tripura tribals issued eviction notice

Tripura tribals to be evicted

By Biswendu Bhattacharjee
Published: Saturday 15 July 2006

at least 2,00,000 tribal people in Tripura may soon become homeless. The state government has issued them eviction notices to immediately vacate "illegally occupied forestland".

The state forest department has identified 43,215 tribal families as "illegal occupants" inhabiting about 14,000 ha of forestland in the Kanchanpur area, along the Tripura-Mizoram border. According to forest officials, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, does not permit anybody to settle in forestland.

But Chakma and Tripuri tribal families have been dwelling in the area for decades now, particularly after October 24, 1980, when the state revenue department allotted them "unused forestland" under the provisions of the Tripura Land Revenue and Land Records Act, 1960. The allottments were made in wake of the fact that following the merger of the erstwhile state of Tuiperra with India in 1961, both tribal reserves (forests given to tribals for their livelihood) and forests under the kingdom were taken over by India under the Indian Forest Act.

The recent move for eviction, which came 25 years after the tribals were settled in Kanchanpur, is to comply with a circular of the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef). The circular requires compliance with a Supreme Court directive that had stayed m o ef's decision to regularise all encroachments on forestland and diversion of forestland for resettlement of tribal people in some states, particularly Madhya Pradesh and Tripura. Following this, on January 17, 2006, Tripura's principal chief conservator of forests asked divisional forest officers to file a revision petition in the court of collectors concerned for cancellation of allotments.

The issue has put the ruling cpi(m) government in trouble, for the move has come at a time when the Left parties are pressing the Union government to pass the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2005, to protect the "legitimate rights" of over 90 million tribal in the country. Besides, the step might damage the party's tribal support base in the state. Meanwhile, the affected families have submitted a memorandum to the sub-divisional magistrate of Kanchanpur, demanding cancellation of the order.

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