The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities over land they’ve traditionally had a hold on. An order was passed on January 8 that cancelled the rights of tribals in the Ghatbarra village of Surguja by the government of Chhattisgarh to allow coal mining in the Parsa East and Kete Besan coal block. As reported by Business Standard, the land has been allocated to Rajasthan Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RVUNL) and Adani Enterprises Limited, RVUNL happens to be a company of the Rajasthan government. Villagers had used their legal rights to stop mining work in the village, according to the order. This has been the first instance since the passing of the FRA that tribal community rights are being taken away in favour of a private enterprise.
The order from the state government, dated January 8, reads (translated from Hindi): “When the administration tries to get diversion of forests done for the Parsa East and Kete Besen open coal block, the villagers, using the context of the land rights given by the collector to them, create barriers and protest to stop work."
FRA and Panchayat Extension To Rural Areas Act (PESA) together conclusively state that once the land is given to the villagers, it cannot be taken away without prior consent of the tribals through the Gram Sabha; that forest rights once given to villagers cannot be taken away without prior consent from the Gram Sabha. Under the FRA, the Gram Sabha is the only authority empowered to decide the future of traditional tribal lands.
The land in question was handed over to the tribals in 2013 when they asserted their rights under FRA and PESA with the Gram Sabha as facilitator. According to the Business Standard, the central government gave the clearance to divert the land for mining in 2012 without settling the rights, while the FRA requires that all claims and rights of tribals and forest-dwellers be settled before the government looks to remove them under section 4(5) of the law. “One set of orders said the land would be diverted only once the rights of the tribals and others had been settled. But then later orders (called stage 2 forest clearance) handed over the land for mining without ascertaining that the rights had actually been settled.” The state government stated that central government’s order had come before the FRA & PESA Acts (in 2013) and therefore the land being diverted for mining is legitimate.
Read the original story in full by Business Standard by clicking here.
Feature image courtesy www.coalscam.org