Tribal self-governance, Forest Rights Act and the

22th May 2012, Mandla

On May 22, an organization called Nai Disha organized a Mukhiya (village leader) meet at Sijhaura village of Mandla district in which representatives of Baiga tribe from Mawai and Bichhia Block participated. Budharam Baiga of Amvar Panchayat said that in Amvar, 48 families had filed claims for forest rights of which 27 families had got it settled whereas rest of the families had not got any information about their claim rejection. Janglusinh Baiga of village Dhuri Jamgaon said that 45 baiga families had submitted their claim forms. Community together had also claimed their rights on common lands. Today, even after two years of filing of their claims, they had got no information of their acceptance or rejection. Jinglal of village Awara Ghanghara said that 57 families had filed claims for the Forest Rights, of which 33 families had received letters towads the acceptance of their claims while the claims of rest 24 families had been rejected. He said that all villagers were collecting rupees 300 and 5 kilo grain per family to support Jansatyagrah. Sukwaron Bai of village Masda said that in February 2009, 37 families had filed for the claim but no information had come on their applications so far. Shri Panchu Baiga said that a dam project was proposed in year 2010 in area of Sobhapur. But villagers had not been informed by administration in this regard. It was through the newspapers that reports were coming that around 484 surrounding villages would need to be rehabilitated. He expressed confidence that from this region a large number of potential victims would take part in the movement of Jansatyagrah.

Gadhi village in Balaghat district was the second stop of the Yatra where the Ekta Parishad organised a public hearing. Dhani Ram of village Navalpur said that 35 tribal and Dalit families had been collectively cultivating the land vacated by Dairy Farm after occupying it since 1992. All these families had been paying penalty to cultivate this occupied land. These families, originally displaced from Kanha National Park were cultivating about 200 acres of land collectively. Even after several applications by these occupants, the State Government had not taken any action towards settlement of this land.Samlia Behan of Navalpur said that these families were getting their livelihoods from the land of dairy farm, but due to its proximity with Kanha National Park, crops were getting damaged by wild animals every year. But as the land was not yet legally settled therefore, compensation for crop damage was not available to the affected families. Suraj Baiga of village Baheratola said that in most of the villages, wild animals were not only destroying crops but also killed pet and milching animals but affected families did not get any compensation. Virsingh Baiga of village Niwas said that in most of villages, claim forms were not distributed in adequate number so the claims had not been submitted for proper action from these villages. Dashrath Bhai of Garhi said that use of common area for community use (nistar rights) for most of the villages under of Kanha National Park was entirely restricted. Most of the villages are in fact Forest Villages (Vangram) where despite all evidences only 10% claim cases have been settled so far, while no claims have been accepted from the traditional forest dweller castes, such as Panka, Luhar (blacksmith) and Ahir. Shri Budh Singh told that, in fact, Garhi area was a regional confederation of about 25 Panchayats where 80 % population belonged to Baiga and Gour tribes. Nearly 56 villages, under these Panchayats, in fact fall under protected forest area. Kanha National Park, connected to Garhi area, is a territory where every work was to be done with permission of forest department and district administration. In these villages, no to and fro movement was allowed to villagers after 5 PM. With notification of the Kanha National Park in year 1972-73, displacement and atrocities started in this Baiga dominated region. Barak Singh of village Semria said that in this area, population of those wild animals had increased substantially who had been destroying the crops of villagers. He expected that Jansatyagrah should raise these issues in front of state and central Governments and request them to review all projects of National Parks. He told that in the areas of Kanha National Park, all traditional paths were closed which were leading the tribes to use their nistar (common land for community use) rights, all in the name of protection of wildlife. He said that in between 1977 to 1975, approximately 417 tribal families were displaced from Mukki area of Baihar tehsil and now most of them had become landless as their social-economic rehabilitation was still incomplete. He also told that these tiger projects had become a serious challenge in the context of tribal villages. Unfortunately, the tiger conservation was being done at the expense of humans.

The third stop of Yatra was at Bamhani village of Mandla district where a public hearing was organised by Save The Tribes Campaign. Senior social worker Suraksha Lal Bhonde said that under a notification before 1975, about 62 villages were displaced, in the name of Tiger Project, whose rehabilitation was still incomplete. In the year 2000, a major campaign was launched by all tribal families to get back to their traditional villages. But inspite of this campaign, 60 other villages have been earmarked for displacement under buffer zone of the forest. Pratap Singh Uike of village Muala said that before 1974, 32 Baiga tribe families lived in the village Aurai who were displaced without any written notice. Later some of these families settled in village Muala, but their claims of Forest Rights were not being entertained in new village where they were settled. Senior social worker, Ramkumar Kusre said that in the name of Kanha project, so far about 10 thousands crores had been spent but not even one percent of it had been spent on rehabilitation or development of tribal families. This had shown the mentality of goverments. In this area displaced Baigas were being arrested in the name of hunting of wildlife. In last 2 years itself, many tribals were beaten and false cases were filed against about 40 people. Mansa Ram Maravi said that social service organizations of this region and all suffering families would join together in decisive movement of Jansatyagrah to oppose collectively the Central government policy focusing just on wildlife conservation. Bairaag Singh Tekam of Adiwasi Mahasabha told in the Baihar area of Balaghat district, under forest-range of Mukki and Supkhar, the forest villages were inhabited by tribals, of which 95% were from Baiga and Gaur tribes. In the name of Kanha National Park, they were displaced in around 1976, about 40 years ago, but their rehabilitation was still incomplete. Tribals from villages Sondhar, Gurila, Aurai and Bisanpura of Mukki forest range and villages Chakrwaha, Gayghat, Jaladabra, Baspahra and Peeparvadha of Supkhar range had been displaced from their houses, occupied forest land and forest itself. House of Chain Singh in village Sondhar was burnt and made to destroy by elephants. Similarly, on 8 June 1976, houses of Baigas in Supkhar range were demolished using elephants. He told that Government of India had itself passed tribal self-governance rules in 1996, whereby no one should be displaced without the consent of Gram Sabhas (village assembly). Unfortunately, in this important area, the importance of tribal self-governance had been completely ignored and forest department and local administration were given free hands to torture local tribals. He told that in order to protect their selfrespect and forests, thousands of people would participate from Biahar area in Jansatyagraha.

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