Tribal rights under Forest Act face total curtailment at some places

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New Delhi, Oct 21 (UNI) The rights granted to tribals under the Forest Act may be totally curtailed at some place in the interest of wildlife conservation, says a top wildlife official of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

This stand of the Ministry arraigns it against supporters of the Forest Rights Act who are increasingly getting agitated over the delay in notifying the Act passed by Parliament last winter and have accused the government of sabotaging the Act in the process of framing rules.

The Ministry is leaving no stone unturned to convince the government of the dangers to wildlife conservation inherent in the rights to be given to tribals ''We have written to states to form expert committees to identify the inviolate areas to be kept out of reach of forest dwellers,'' the official told UNI.

He said the Ministry has to identify critical wildlife habitat where the rights granted under the Act will be modified and at some places they will be totally curtailed.

The wildlife lobby has been impressing upon the Government that the rights granted to tribals would result in reckless exploitation of natural resources of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.They want that relocation should be accomplished before the Act is notified.

However, tribal rights activists argue that there were adequate provisions in the Act for wildlife conservation and protection and it provides for relocation of forest-dwellers from critical wildlife habitat.

They also argue that while government has already prepared a Rs 4,000 crore plus package for people displaced from wildlife areas, the relocation scheme can be implemented only after after the Act has been enforced.

The Ministry official said rules will have to be modified where needed to carry out relocation.

Meanwhile, a tribal rights group Campaign for Survival of Democracy has said illegal evictions from tribal areas had already started ahead of the notification of the Act.

The latest attempt took place in Kumbalgarh in Rajasthan, where the Forest Department tried to evict pre-1970 cultivators, leaving several people injured and one in jail. Even existing law says that the land is theirs, it said.

The group said a big conspiracy was being hatched to take land from forest dwellers in the name of conservation and to give them to the industry and timber mafia.

It said the Environment Ministry was part of this conspiracy and was hastily declaring forest dwellers' settlements as ''critical wildlife habitat'' without any proper procedure and without properly relocating them.

The Campaign activists said they had found after field visits and studying documents that the Government was planning a relocation package consisting essentially of cash compensation to those being resettled, allowing for large scale corruption and leaving people stranded with no livelihood.

According to the Group, the Act carries several clauses that allows exclusion of many real forest dwelling communities, including people who were brought in by the government itself.

On the other hand it has rejected a clause in the Rules stating that those who use hired labour--contractors, traders etc-- should be excluded from being eligible, which means that Act will be misused both to take over forest land and to exclude many forest dwellers.

Rather than make Rules for resettlements from protected areas as part of this Act, the current Rules hand that issue over to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the very department that has vested interest in bad and hasty resettlement, says the Campaign.

UNI

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