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Call to recognise forest rights of tribals

Sunday 8 May 2005, by CHANDRAMOHAN*C.K.

`Lobby of ex-maharajas spreading canard’

DEHRA DUN: Avdhash Kaushal, chairperson of the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, here has urged the United Progressive Alliance chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, to ensure that the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, is enacted at the earliest.

He said this was important as a "lobby of ex-maharajahs and an influential section of wildlife planners, most of whom are former hunters themselves, are spreading the canard that the Congress and its MP, Rahul Gandhi, were against giving fundamental forest rights to tribals as dreamt by Rajiv Gandhi."

Coterie of ex-hunters

He alleged that this lobby has whipped up a media storm about the decreasing number of tigers the moment it knew that this Bill was to be placed in Parliament. The Bill when enacted will restore the traditional rights of the tribals who have safeguarded the forest wealth since time immemorial and curb the powers and "illegal" activities of the "forest and wildlife mafia" going around as wildlife lovers, Mr. Kaushal said.

A known crusader for human rights and environment, he cited examples of the rich diversity in virgin forests where only tribals lived and the massive destruction of tree and animal wealth wherever the corrupt bureaucrats and so-called animal lovers were allowed to function as custodians of nature.

Signatory to convention

Mr. Kaushal said India was a signatory to the International Convention ILO 169 of 1989 as well as the Rio Conference, which have categorised the recommended rights of nomads and pastoralists.

According to Article 14.1 of ILO 169 of 1989, the rights of ownership and possession of the people concerned over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognised.

It says measures shall be taken in appropriate cases to safeguard the right of the peoples concerned to use lands not exclusively occupied by them, but to which they have traditionally had access for their sustenance.

"Particular attention shall be paid to the situation of nomadic people and shifting cultivators in this respect."

Land identification

According to Article 14.2 "the Government shall take steps necessary to identify the lands, which the peoples concerned traditionally occupy, and to guarantee effectively protection of their rights of ownership and possession."

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