Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Whither Forest Rights

A two day workshop was held in Raipur in Chhattisgarh on January 9th and 10th under the auspices of the Jan Van Adhikar Manch and the National Centre for Advocacy Studies on the problems regarding the implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act 1996 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006 (FRA). The first statute provides for the constitution of Gram Sabhas or village councils in the traditional tribal hamlets that may be part of a bigger village or Panchayat and then gives these Gram Sabhas wide powers to manage the natural resources and the affairs of the community in accordance with traditional tribal customs. The second law purports to set right the injustice done to tribals by not recognising the fact that they had been cultivating forest land for centuries prior to the settlement process under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927 undertaken widely throughout India after independence and deeming them as encroachers.
In reality both these laws are not being implemented mainly because the state agencies and their staff see a threat to their power arising from their implementation. The workshop was organised to take stock of this lack of implementation and chart out a campaign strategy to counter the reluctance of state authorities. Tribals and activists from Jashpur, Sarguja, Bilaspur and Raipur districts of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra attended the workshop. It came to light that the provisions of PESA were not being applied and that in Jashpur where private companies have been given prospecting leases and proposals are under consideration for the setting up of steel, power and cement plants, the administration is putting pressure on the tribal people to go along with these plans instead of asserting their rights to manage their resources.
The situation was equally bad with regard to the implementation of the FRA. In most cases the applications for community rights to forests have not been accepted by the administration. In the case of individual rights applications also there have been many rejections but the applicants have not been informed of this or been given written notice of the grounds for the rejection. Even in cases where rights certificates have been given the amount of land mentioned is much less than that demanded. An attempt is on by the forest department to try and demarcate on the ground the lesser amount of land recorded in the certificates even though the process is still going on. There is also an attempt on the part of the administration to officially declare that the process of conferring of rights has been completed under the provisions of the law.
The situation in the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in Bilaspur district is particularly disturbing. Under the provisions of Chapter IVA of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, if a protected area is declared as a tiger reserve then it is necessary to take the consent of the tribals residing in it regarding the management of this reserve. However, the forest department instead of consulting the tribals, which under the provisions of PESA entails that Gram Sabha meetings should be held and the whole process of tiger reserve management should be discussed in these meetings, has told them individually that they will have to vacate their villages and resettle elsewhere and for this they will be given Rs 10 lakhs. There is nothing about this in writing however. The tribals are all Baigas, who are a primitive tribe still very much unfamiliar with the processes of law. This is a clear violation of the law as the tribals cannot be displaced from the sanctuary without their consent.
Thus, the Indian State continues to violate its own laws to cheat the tribals as of old. Faced with this governmental mendacity it was decided at the workshop to use the provisions of law to file cases on behalf of the tribals in appropriate courts against the state's unjust ways. The Right to Information Act 2005 is also to be used to get information regarding the proceedings of the meetings of the Subdivisional Level and District Level Committees under the FRA for the acceptance or rejection of the applications for Rights. Since this is a legal procedure each and every one of the lakhs of applications needs to be assessed on merit and reasons should be recorded in writing for their acceptance or rejection. It was felt that the records of this process should be scrutinised to see whether the legal process had been followed. If it hadn't as is most likely then the whole process could be challenged in court and a demand could be made for it to be done properly all over again.
Finally citing the example of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath it was suggested that grassroots level organisation work should be strengthened and that the trade union mode of functioning should be tried out as it led to ownership by the people of the organisation and its actions. The main reason for the state to be able to act in this lawless manner is the lack of widespread mobilisation of the tribals for their rights. So the only way forward is to increase mobilisation to put pressure on the state.

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