11, Sep 2019 | CJP Team
Adivasis and forest dwellers of a village in Dudhwa National Park offer a point by point rebuttal to the fallacious claims of the Forest Department submitted as “grounds” to reject community forest rights claims (CFR). The villagers had submitted the claims as long back as in 2013.
On July 31, 2013, forest dwellers from 17 villages of the Dudhwa national park region on the India-Nepal border submitted details of around 2150 families to claim lands under community forest rights provision as per the Amendments to the FRA in 2012 which incorporated a new form, Form C. The amendments empowered the Gram Sabhas further.
Filing of claims is an elaborate and carefully laid down procedure that has been devised to help traditional forest dwellers and Adivasis draw up claims to the land they have bee tilling for decades, even centuries. The deliberate erasure of this history from Indian land revenue records dates back to colonial, British times.
Among its four pillars of action, the land and livelihood rights of Adivasis and traditional forest dwellers, is one. CJP, with its expertise in navigating cases of human rights violations in the courts and beyond has been active on the issue; partnering with the All India Union of Forest Working Peoples (AIUFWP) since 2017 to battle any setback to these rights in the courts. This includes legally fighting back against malicious prosecution of leaders of the community and defending the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in the Supreme Court. We stand with the millions of Forest Dwellers and Adivasis whose lives and livelihoods are threatened. Please support our efforts by donating here
Colonial past of Dudhwa National Park region
Because of a colonial past, and an agreement between the then queen of Khairigarh estate and the British, the forest villages in this region were brought under the absolute control of the Forest Department (FD). The FD was made as the sole proprietor of these villages and no tenancy rights were given to those who were residing there, despite the fact that this was a tested and historic existence of cultivation and manufacturing minor forest produce. Through this activity, local communities also helped preserve the forests. This area has remained a site of struggle since then. Thirty-seven out of the total 39 villages from the park were relocated when Dudhwa was notified in 1977. And they were later converted into revenue villages in 1986.
One of the villages, Surma was declared to be within the core zone with maximum concentration of tigers, while Golibazi was declared to be in the buffer zone. The first order for ‘eviction’ came in 1978. The plan was to move the people based in Surma to six different villages across a span of 500 acrez. Local communities approached the high court. After 23 years of a keenly fought legal battle, in 2003, the Allahabad High Court gave a judgment which was in line with the Forest Department’s demand and denial of the rights of the Adivasis and OTFDs. Left with no other option, local Adivasi and forest dwelling communities launched a non-violent struggle. The women took the lead and formed the Tharu Adivasi Mahila Mazdoor Kisan Manch to lead the agitation. The threat of eviction became stronger and the Adivasis became victims of continued harassment; both women and men got beaten up and many criminalized under falsified cases alleging crimes against wildlife.
Significant delays and misplaced files
Though the villagers were promised by the Sub-Divisional Level Committee (SDLC) and District Level Committee (DLC) in July 2013 that their claims will be verified and disposed of within a month, no such thing happened. Instead, in the name of verification, their files were sent to the Gram Pradhans and Lekhpals.
No action was taken on these claims for two years. Because of consistent protests by people, in 2015, the SDLC got together files of many villages. The files containing the claim related documents for many villages had been misplaced by then. As a precautionary measure, the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP), which has played a significant role in mobilising people in the area, had preserved photocopies of the files and another copy of the claims was submitted again in 2016. Because of an ever expanding and vibrant movement around forest rights, pressure was built by the people to investigate the entire matter, but because of the deliberate attempts of the forest department officials to mislead the administration the matter was kept in limbo until 2017.
Whenever the movement caught momentum, the process of verification of documents would be hastened for a brief while but because of frequent transfers of administrative officials, the process kept getting interrupted.
As the movement was renewed in February 2019, the Sub District Magistrate (SDM) of Palia attributed the official responsibility to look into the files/ land claims submitted by villagers to the Lekhpal. The files were sent to the FD for verification. After about three months, when people organised and agitated for a time bound end to the process, in July 2019, the FD sought to reject the land claims on reportedly flimsy grounds.
The villagers have now submitted a point by point rebuttal of FD’s claims. The department rejected the claims on various unfounded grounds such as the absence of a Forest Rights Committee (FRC) at the Gram Sabha level. The villagers from Kajaria village said, on December 10, 2008, because of the directions of the then District Magistrate Pinki Joel, in the presence of district level officials, FRCs were constituted for as many as 18 villages in the janpad Kheeri. On the recommendations of these committees, the claims could be submitted on July 31, 2013, and hence this objection was invalid, as argued in the submissions of the villagers.
On another objection, the villagers have submitted that there is no mention of the word “total area” in the guidelines for the implementation of the FRA. Besides, the column for this notes that this needs to be mentioned only if the people know about it. It is the duty of the FD to find out the respective numbers based on the maps attached by the villagers and then give assign a number.
The villagers have also submitted that the FD needs to study the history of the region and how some villages were converted to revenue villages etc.
Here is a list of villages that have filed claims so far: