Press Release

Bring Tribal Forest Rights Bill in Parliament

The Tribal Coordination Committee of the CPI(M) met in New Delhi on October 4 and 5, 2005. Tribal representatives from 13 states attended the meeting which was convened to discuss the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005.

The meeting decided to hold a national campaign for tabling of the Bill in the forthcoming session of parliament, through demonstrations, dharnas, conventions etc. culminating in an All India Demands Day on November 18.

It is extremely unfortunate that the Bill to meet the longstanding legitimate demands of the tribals for legal recognition of their traditional rights in forests, including land and access to minor forest produce, should be delayed on specious grounds. It is also reported that the Ministry of Environment has floated another Bill which dilutes the rights of tribals.

The CPI(M) requests that the government to reject any attempt to dilute tribal rights.

The Tribal Coordination Committee in its extensive and detailed discussions on the Bill has held that the Bill requires amendments if it is to uphold the rights of tribals. These include removal of the cut off date of 1980 wrongly introduced in the Bill and which if implemented will lead to mass evictions of tribals. The other related issue is the ceiling of 2.5 hectares of land proposed in the Bill on tribal holdings which is far less than the land ceilings in the states for non-tribal sections and may lead to disentitlement of adult sons/daughters who have been cultivating land but may not have legal evidence. Clarifications are required on this issue.

Also the crucial issue of development of tribal habitations and provision of minimum facilities like drinking water, health care etc. have been completely ignored in the Bill. The important issue of rehabilitation of those displaced by numerous projects has not been addressed in the Bill, which is necessary.

All these and other issues will form part of the campaign. Representations will also be made to the government.

The Coordination Committee noted the recent Jharkhand High Court judgment which has negated and struck down the provisions of PESA (Provision of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996) related to reservation of chairpersons posts for scheduled tribes in all Schedule V Areas. The meeting endorsed the decision of the Jharkhand State Committee of the CPI(M) to challenge the retrograde judgment in the Supreme Court. It is indeed surprising that the BJP-led Jharkhand government has not appealed against the judgment. A delegation will meet the Union Minister for Panchayats and request that the Centre should also intervene in the matter since it will have repercussions on the implementation of PESA in nine states.