Centre’s nod for mining in 170,000 hectares of forest in Chhattisgarh

Hindustan Times || Jayashree Nandi, New Delhi || March 21, 2019

Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India, spanning about 170,000 hectares.

The Union environment ministry has given environmental clearance for open cast coal mining in Parsa in Chhattisgarh’s dense Hasdeo Arand forests, in a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for forest cover conservation in India.

Hasdeo Arand is one of the largest contiguous stretches of very dense forest in central India, spanning about 170,000 hectares. Parsa is one of the 30 coal blocks in Hasdeo Arand and is owned by the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd (RVUNL). Read more

Centre drafts stricter alternative to Colonial-era Indian Forest Act, 1927

Nitin Sethi & Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava | New Delhi | March 21, 2019

Forest bureaucracy to get more policing powers, including higher immunity to use firearms and override Forest Rights Act

The Union government has proposed an overhaul of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 which the British rulers imposed to take over Indian forests, use them to produce timber, while curtailing and extinguishing rights of millions. But, in the draft law to replace the colonial-era act, the Union government has proposed to not only retain but enhance policing and quasi-judicial powers that the forest officials enjoyed under the original act and provide them yet more. This includes powers to use firearms with exceptional levels of immunity from prosecution. Read more

Disempowering gram sabhas

The Hindu || Chitrangada Choudhury || MARCH 20, 2019

Since 1980, through the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) has “diverted for non-forest use” (bureaucratese for destroyed) over 1.5 million hectares of forest. How many Adivasis and forest-dwellers have been evicted by this ‘lawful’ forest destruction? Stripping these forests has yielded thousands of crores of rupees for corporations to which a bulk of these forestlands were diverted, and for forest departments via compensatory funds. But how have the original inhabitants of these forests, already among the most marginalised, coped with the loss of homes and livelihoods?

A deafening silence meets these questions. We cannot find answers, yet, in Supreme Court hearings on a petition by a set of conservationists and former forest officers motivated, self-admittedly, by forest protection concerns. On February 13, the court ordered the eviction of 1.8 million Adivasi and forest-dwelling claimants under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, to stem supposed forest destruction. On February 28, it stayed the order until a July hearing. Shouldn’t the destruction of over 1.5 million hectares of forest, and the misuse of the FCA, seize the court and petitioners? And how would the FRA perform on forest stewardship, where the FCA is failing? Read more

‘Forest Rights Could Decide Election Results In 133 (25%) Seats’

IndiaSpend || Bhasker Tripathi || March 20, 2019

‘Forest Rights Could Decide Election Results In 133 (25%) Seats’

Poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) could be a deciding factor in nearly a quarter (133) of the 543 parliamentary constituencies in the 2019 general elections, according to an analysis by Community Forest Resource-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA), an NGO network.

Analysing the results of the 2014 general elections in the 133 constituencies with a large proportion of tribal dwellers, the analysis finds that the number of voters eligible for land rights under the FRA is more than the margin of victory in more than 95% of the seats. Read more

2019 polls: Political parties told to fight “undeclared” emergency, protect people

Counterview.net || March 12, 2019

The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM), claiming to be a coalition of more than 30 “progressive” organisations, activists and intellectuals working in different parts of Jharkhand for the rights of poor, Adivasis, Dalits, women and minorities, has said that India is passing through a phase of “undeclared emergency”, and the 2019 elections provide an “important opportunity” to reverse this predicament.

Putting forward demands before political parties seeking to “protect” the Constitution, preserve “democratic institutions”, and “protect” secular values, protect natural resources, and come up with policies to halt starvation deaths, lynching incidents, increasing atrocities on Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and women, attacks on freedom of expression and harassment of activists, JJM says, it is ready to discuss these.

Text of the demands:
JJM believes that our state and country are passing through a phase of undeclared emergency. Peoples’ rights and basic tenets of democracy are under attack: amendment in Land Acquisition Act, starvation deaths, lynching incidents, increasing atrocities on Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and women, state-sponsored communalism, attacks on the freedom of expression, harassment of activists, attacks on traditional self-governance systems of Adivasis, to name a few.

In this background, the 2019 Lok Sabha election presents an extremely important opportunity to protect democracy and the Constitution. On the one hand, the ruling dispensation is sparing no effort to weaken democratic institutions and on the other, principal opposition parties also do not have a firm stand on people’s issues.
JJM hopes that 2019 elections will lead to formation of a government that will be committed to ensuring people’s rights, preservation of constitution and democratic institutions and committed to secular and democratic values.

JJM demands from all political parties contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to exhibit explicit commitment on the following people’s issues in their election manifesto. The Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha will discuss the question of political commitment on these issues with the people across the state.

Gram Sabha and Natural Resources
Repeal Land Acquisition Amendment Act 2018 (Jharkhand) and Land Bank policy. No amendment, against the interest of Gram Sabha and people at large, should be made in land laws. Land taken over or identified under these policies should be immediately returned to the owners / Gram Sabha.

All those projects that are being undertaken without consent of Gram Sabha and by violating land laws should be scrapped Icha-Kharkai embankment, Godda Adani Power project, Palamu elephant corridor, Mandal dam are few examples falling in this category.
Samta judgement, Fifth Schedule and PESA should be implemented in letter and spirit. Rules for PESA to be formulated. Forest Rights Act should be enforced fully and all community and individual claims should be accepted.

Civil and Democratic Liberties
Laws that are blatantly and repeatedly used for suppression of freedom of expression and harassment of activists should be immediately repealed. Few examples are Sections124A (sedition) and 499 (criminal defamation) of the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities (Preventions) Act and National Security Act. All fabricated cases filed under these laws / provisions in Jharkhand should be withdrawn.

Immediate release of under trial prisoners languishing in Jharkhand’s jails since a long time. Immediate release of Adivasi under-trials, falsely branded as Naxals (more than 3000 in number).

Repression by administration and security forces in Khunti district by claiming Pathalgarhi to be unconstitutional should be immediately stopped. All cases to be withdrawn, police camps to be winded up, victims to be compensated and perpetrators of repression should be punished.

Domicile and Reservation
Present domicile policy of the state to be repealed. Instead domicile policy to consider only those who are native inhabitants of Jharkhand as local residents to be formulated.
Rules should be framed to ensure maximum participation of local residents in decision-making positions at all levels of all government and private jobs. At least 50% reservation should be ensured for Adivasis, Dalits, and backwards in promotion in government jobs. At least 33% reservation should be ensured for women in all areas. All vacant posts in all departments should be filled within one year of formation of government.

Provision of 10% reservation for financially weak candidates (which is primarily a reservation for savarnas) should be scrapped since this provision is against basic principles of reservation and social justice.

Social Security, Healthcare and Education
Universal basic services and social security for all citizens to be guaranteed for – food, nutrition, universal common education till secondary level, and maternity benefits. Aadhaar-based biometric authentication should be removed from all welfare programmes and public services and Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for any welfare programme and public services.

Universal PDS with at least 7 kg food grain per person, pulses and edible oil. Expansion of Dal-Bhat Kendras with improved services. Social security pension of at least Rs 3000 per month for all elderly, specially abled, single women and members of particularly vulnerable tribal groups. Maternity benefits of at least Rs 6,000 per child to all pregnant women (without conditionalities). Cooked nutritious meal, with six eggs per week, for all children in Anganwadis and midday meals in schools.

Expansion of employment guarantee programme to urban areas and for skilled labour as well. Expansion of the right to work for every rural family under NREGA to 200 days per year with minimum Rs 300 per day wages or minimum wage of the state, whichever is higher.

Expansion of Right to Education to cover equal and free education for all children up to Class 12. Order of merging schools should be recalled by Jharkhand govt and closed schools should be reopened.

All citizens should be provided common, free and quality health services through public health system. Delivery of government health services to be strengthened at all levels, especially for primary and preventive care.

Agriculture
All recommendations of Swaminathan Committee should be implemented and farmers should be paid procurement price of 50% over and above the C2 cost of cultivation. All surplus produce of farmers should be procured on time. One-time comprehensive loan waiver. Control of all forest produce should be vested with Gram Sabha.

Irrigation facilities based on rainwater, rivers, rivulets and existing dams should be ensured. Irrigation management should primarily be done by Gram Sabha and at secondary level by Panchayati Raj institutions.

Cow Protection Act of Jharkhand should be scrapped and restrictions on trade of animals should be withdrawn.

Religion, Culture and Language
Freedom of religion Act, Jharkhand should be scrapped. Adivasi religion, by the name of Sarna or some other name (decided by the Adivasi communities), should be officially recognised.

Adivasi and regional languages of Jharkhand should be used in official communications and these should be made additional medium for education in schools.

Special provisions and schemes for comprehensive development of minorities based on recommendations of the Sachar Committee. Separate budget provisions should be made for minority communities.

Transparent, Accountable Governance and Electoral Reforms
Complete transparency in funding of political parties. Restrictions imposed for lodging complaints by citizens on public representatives and government officials should be withdrawn. Right to recall elected representatives should be made fundamental right.
Sanctity of Right to Information Act should be maintained, without any form of dilution. A decentralised grievance redress mechanism should be established in the state. Online facility for filing Right to Information applications in the state to be established.

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