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Plea to Sonia to recognise forest rights of tribals

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

It was alleged that a vested lobby of ex-maharajahs and an influential section of wildlife planners are spreading word that the Congress party was against giving forest rights to tribals.

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.

This was important as a vested lobby of ex-maharajahs and an influential section of present-day wildlife planners most of whom are former hunters themselves are spreading word that the Congress party and its MP, Rahul Gandhi, were against giving fundamental forest rights to tribals as dreamt by Rajiv Gandhi, Mr Kaushal alleged

This coterie of ex-hunters set off a media hype about the decreasing number of tigers the moment they 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 drastically curtail 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, Mr Kaushal 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.

Mr Kaushal wanted Ms Gandhi to keep in mind that India was a signatory to the International Convention ILO 169 of 1989 as well as the Rio Conference, which have categorized 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 recognized. In addition, 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 and traditional activities. Particular attention shall be paid to the situation of nomadic people and shifting cultivators in this respect".

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", Mr Kaushal said.

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