February 18th, 2016
Image Source: coalscam
Chhattisgarh Tribals Forest Rights repealed
Chhattisgarh govt. in a baffling pronouncement has canceled tribal rights over forests to facilitate coal mining. The government order to allow mining by bypassing the rights given under Forest Rights Act (FRA). It is unprecedented for a state government to grant a license of mining to companies contravening the provisions of the FRA.
What happenedChhattisgarh government had facilitated coal mining of Prasa East and Kete Besan coal block. The block has been allocated to two companies namely Rajasthan Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RVUNL) and Adani Minerals Private Limited is the mine developer cum operator (MDO) which is a 100% owned subsidiary of Adani Enterprises Limited while RVUNL is Rajasthan government’s company. The government officials stated that the villagers had for long been using their legal rights over the forest land to stop work of mining in their villages. The Forest Rights Act empowers the villagers and gives them ownership rights over their land and the way it can be used. For instance, the gram sabha’s approval is mandatory for diversion of forest land towards mining or any other developmental process.
Rights Based Legislation and Facts
Forest Rights Act and Panchayat Extension to Rural Areas act (PESA) together conclusively state that forest rights once given to villagers cannot be taken away without prior consent from the Gram Sabha. It is to be noted that almost 3/5th of state’s area comes under these acts. Even when Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is being formulated, Gram Sabha has to be consulted in the presence of district officials before projects are auctioned off. Tribal’s have been given powers to claim individual and community rights over forest lands they have traditionally lived on for a long time and if their livelihood is dependent on them.
What went wrong and where Chhattisgarh Govt. Failed
The gram sabha of Ghatbarra had on September 3, 2013, claimed rights on their forest lands as they were empowered to do so according to FRA and PESA acts. Based on the claims individual and community rights over the land through the provisions of FRA & PESA Acts. In October 2014, the gram sabha of Ghatbarra, along with 19 other neighboring villages, took out resolution opposing the mining of coal and other minerals in their lands. Under the Forest Rights Act, the gram sabha, as earlier stated, is the only authority empowered to decide the future of traditional tribal lands.
However, an earlier central government order in 2012 had given orders to divert the disputed lands for mining purposes after adequately settling the villagers who own the land. To everybody’s surprise, the state government has cited the central government’s order had come earlier than the FRA & PESA Acts (in 2013) and hence the land has been diverted for mining.
The Logical Indian welcomes any developmental activity which does not involve forceful displacement. The state government should defend people’s rights over their land and more so in the case of poor tribal people. The land is the only source of livelihood for many and hence, the government should be firm in implementing the FRA & PESA Act. Yes, enabling corporates in developmental work is a win-win for the country and the corporate but certainly not at the cost/displacement of our fellow citizens and not without their approval. Corporate need to should be listened to and acted upon, corporate greed and collusion should be shunned at all cost.