12, Jun 2018 | Sushmita
In the latest development in the forest rights struggle in Sonbhadra, the Sub District Magistrate (SDM) of Robertsganj has issued notices for “illegal occupation of land” to the president and members of the Forest Rights Committee (FRC).
Notably, the people had filed Community resource rights claims, along with 16 Gram Sabhas (GS), on March 23, 2018. Reportedly, the chief of the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC) has accused Munnar Gond (Gram Sabha President, Bahuar), Sheela Bharti (President, Bheemnagar Baghuwari), Santoshi (President, Tiloli), Lakshman (President, GautamBudh Nagar Amoli), Shubhlal (Sect Basauli) and others. The Forest Rights Committee (FRC) of Robertsganj tahseel, Sonbhadra district has responded to the ‘unconstitutional’ notice, and asked the SDM to immediately withdraw it.
The SDLC issued the notice through the police on Friday, June 8 and asked the people to take bail. The All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), in its electronic communication to various organisations, alleged that the officials of Sonbhadra were turning the Forest Rights Act (FRA) on its head, and were biased against anyone applying for community rights under the Act, considering them encroachers. The union alleged that the officials were still following the Forest Department’s instructions to target those claiming land that is rightfully theirs.
CJP has been closely monitoring how the Adivasi women of Sonbhadra are being systematically bullied and harassed. Many of them face fake cases filed on false or trumped up charges. We are fighting for the human rights defenders in court, and also intervening in everyday episodes of institutional violence in the area. Please donate generously to support these efforts.
Responding to the notice issued by the SDM, the FRC of Robertsganj said in a letter that the notice was both “illegal” and “unconstitutional” and went “against the intention of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006”.
The FRC’s response highlighted several inconsistencies in the notice: for example, the land and plot over which the allegations of encroachment were made was not mentioned in the notice. The response noted that the land had been cultivated by Dalits and Adivasis for generations. The individuals named in the notice have also filed individual claims. The response said that the notice was not in accordance with the law (FRA) and hence should be withdrawn.
The response added that villagers from two districts, Dudhi and Robertsganj, which included 16 villages, had filed for Community resource rights claims on March 23. It added, “We have observed that the people who have been termed as accused persons as per your notice that we have received from you under Section 111 are actually the people who had submitted the memorandum to the Sub-District Magistrate (SDM) after filing the claims”.
The letter highlighted the duties of the Gram Sabha as per Section 4, sub-section 1 of the FRA including the assessment of the nature of forest rights, demarcation of boundaries and the hearing of claims, and the preparation of a list of claimants. As per the FRA, decisions are to be taken at the Gram Sabha level and the concerned officials are to be given a deadline to act on the claims, and the report/claims are to be sent to the sub-division level committee. However, the letter alleged that in this case, the notices were sent to the people who helped in submitting and processing these claims.
In response to the notice, the letter asked that the SDM update the progress on the claims filed by the villagers on March 23 within one week, and asked that the illegal notice be withdrawn immediately.
In another major repressive measure, Sukalo Gond, a key leader of the forest rights movement in Sonbhadra, was arrested along with three others on Friday, June 8, as she was returning from a meeting with Uttar Pradesh’s Forest Minister, Dara Singh Chauhan in Lucknow. In the meeting, the Forest Minister gave assurances that cases of forest rights violations would be investigated, along with police brutality in Sonbhadra district, particularly in the Lilasi village, where police had assaulted Adivasi women on Tuesday, May 22.