CHARGE 1: MAKING POLICIES TO HARASS ADIVASIS AND FOREST DWELLERS
- Since 2014 the Modi-led BJP central government has repeatedly set in place policies to encourage forest officials to grab the lands of tribal people and forest dwellers, and has also tried to protect officials from any consequences for doing so. In 2016 the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act was passed, giving complete power to forest officials to spend gigantic amounts of money (over Rs. 60,000 crores) without any accountability to the people whose forests, lands and lives will be damaged or destroyed by their activities. They can plant trees on people’s lands, build tourism projects and ‘development’ projects, etc. without even informing forest dwellers – the law does not even mention forest rights. This has already led to threatened evictions and attacks on people in several states.
- In April 2017 the National Tiger Conservation Authority issued an illegal order barring recognition of forest rights in tiger reserves, affecting lakhs of families. After 2017, the BJP government stopped intervening effectively in the Supreme Court, where the Forest Rights Act is being challenged. On February 13, 2019 this led to a Supreme Court order to evict more than one million Adivasi and forest dweller families. Only after there was nationwide protests and outrage did the BJP government finally go back to the court and get the order “put on hold”.
- On March 7, the BJP government sent all State governments a proposal to amend the Indian Forest Act and to make it an extremely dangerous law. The BJP wants to give forest guards the power to shoot people without facing any prosecution and to empower Forest Departments to take away people’s rights just through paying them some money. If this law is passed, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 will be dead and India will have a forest law much worse than anything the British passed.
CHARGE 2: DISPLACING ADIVASIS AND GRABBING FOREST, MINERALS AND LAND FOR COMPANIES
- BJP government has accelerated the speed of forest clearances. More than 57,000 hectares were cleared in 2014-2016 alone. Under the law, such diversion is only allowed with the consent of concerned gram sabhas and with a certificate from them that all forest rights have been recognised. But land is being diverted for projects without any of these requirements being met.
- The Modi government has also issued a series of orders intending to make it easier for companies to take over forest land. Orders have been passed to allow forest diversion for mineral prospecting, forest diversion in areas without “tribal populations”, grant of mining leases, creation of land banks, etc. without taking the consent of gram sabhas and without complying with the legal requirements of FRA. Most recently the Environment Ministry has amended the Rules to permit grant of “in principle” clearance without gram sabha consent.
- The National Tribal Advisory Council under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister in 2015 is facilitating a wholesale diversion of forest and Adivasi land for commercial projects. Not only has the NDA blatantly usurped the powers of the Governors and destroyed the federal and democratic principles, it has not spared other institutions like the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Tribal Advisory Councils in the states.
CHARGE 3: DEPRIVING FOREST DWELLERS OF NON-TIMBER FOREST PRODUCE
- The BJP government has also made a constant effort to shut down the access of forest dwellers to forest produce. In 2015 the BJP governments of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra passed Village Forest Rules that empowered the Forest Department to bypass the power of forest dwellers to protect and use their community forests, and instead tried to bring community forests under the Forest Department again using these Rules – which give the Department control over non-timber forest produce and the power to take back people’s rights at any time. Both the BJP’s Central and State governments have failed to record people’s rights and ownership over forest produce and have taken no steps to end official monopolies on forest produce, even though this is required under the Forest Rights Act.
- Finally, the UPA government had initiated a scheme for providing minimum support price for minor forest produce. The BJP government effectively finished off this scheme by reducing the funds for it, especially for non-BJP ruled States. In 2016-2017 only Rs 3 crores was spent in the whole country under this scheme.
CHARGE 4: NON IMPLEMENTATION OF PESA ACT, EFFORTS TO DILUTE THE LAND ACQUISITION ACT AND OTHER TRIBAL FRIENDLY LAWS
- The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, which empowers gram sabhas in tribal areas declared under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, has not been implemented or even mentioned by this government at all. Meanwhile, the BJP-led government in Jharkhand has been trying to dilute the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act and other key laws that protect tribal land rights. After the 2015 attempt to dilute the Land Acquisition Act failed, all BJP state governments have been trying to dilute the Act with state amendments. This affects tribals the most because they are subject to the highest rate of displacement.
CHARGE 5: DILUTION OF PROTECTIONS FOR ADIVASIS- THE SC/ST ATROCITIES ACT, THE RESERVATION SYSTEM AND TRIBAL SUB PLAN
- The BJP government allowed the SC/ST Act to be diluted and waited six months before bringing in an ordinance to strengthen it again. Similarly, the roster system in universities was diluted and the government waited one year before bringing in an ordinance just before the elections to address this issue. The Tribal Sub Plan, which provides for separate funds for tribal development, has been completely underfunded under the Modi government.