Statement on Threats to Rights of Adivasi Indigenous Peoples and Forest Dwellers in India

Letters and Submissions

Statement on Threats to Rights of Adivasi Indigenous Peoples and Forest Dwellers in India
11 March 2019

We at TAAF are very concerned about recent events in India concerning an interim order that would evict several thousand people from their lands. The order, if carried out, will impose grave injustices to thousands of families living in and dependent on the forests. It violates article 21 of the Indian Constitution which recognise the right to life and livelihood for Adivasi and forest peoples.

The background to this situation is the struggle to secure Adivasi and forest dwellers’ rights to continue to live and conduct livelihoods in areas where governments are working to impose harsh legislation on “forest protection” and wildlife conservation which would seek to evict them from their traditional lands. Long-standing struggle and activism against draconian measures in the Indian Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act resulted in the Forest Rights Act of 2006. In Section 6 of the Forest Rights Act it declares it a criminal offence to not to  process the claims of Adivasis and other Traditional Forest Dwellers for their rights to the forest land.

The Supreme Court decision arises from a petition to it by an environmental NGO. This NGO charged that Adivasi and forest peoples damage national parks and threaten wildlife. This group petitioned the Court to “permit the voluntary  resettlement of people residing within the National Parks and Sanctuaries, without insisting on settling their rights therein under the impugned Act”. This is in reference to the Forest Rights Act 2006 described above.

As a result, on 13 February 2019, the Supreme Court of India passed an interim order for eviction of thousands of persons, whose claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recogniton of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 had been “rejected”. The Supreme Court has asked the Chief Secretaries of 16 State Governments to evict the Adivasis and other Traditional Forest Dwellers whose claims were rejected by the respective Forest Departments. In the state of
Karnataka alone a total of 227,014 claims were filled under the Forest Rights Act; from this 35,521 claims of Adivasis and 141,019 claims of other Forest Dwellers were rejected. These numbers only hint at the scale of the potential impacts of these measures.

This unjust decision led to a strong reaction from number of people’s networks (including TAAF member EQUATIONS) and Adivasi communities who raised their voices against this decision. As a result, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs filed an application for a staying the order which succeeded on 28 February 2019 in temporarily stopping action. However, the threat of eviction remains as the case continues in the Supreme Court.

Our TAAF member EQUATIONS has explained in their letter on this issue that: “Tourism development and the privilege given to the tourism industry has had a huge role to play in creating hurdles for implementation of the Forest Rights Act”. Eviction of the Adivasis and Forest Dwellers is intended to make way for commercial tourism developments focused on ecotourism and wildlife tourism. The allegations of forest damage are pernicious lies to support an agenda of dispossession and theft.

We counter these lies by asserting that Adivasis and Forest Dwellers have lived in these natural areas and forests for thousands of years, caring for them and co-existing with the wildlife in harmony. Their struggle for their rights led to the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and their struggle will continue to ensure that they and their children can continue to live and thrive in their home lands.

We call on governments at all levels in India to live up to the provisions of the law in relations to rights of Adivasis and Forest Dwellers. It is vital that hard won legislation such as the Forest Rights Act and that government bodies like the  Ministry of Tribal Affairs are focused on advancing the rights of Adivasis and Forest Dwellers.

We ask you to join us in speaking and out and taking a stand against these grave injustices underway in India. Please share this statement through your networks and draw attention to Adivasi and Forest Dweller rights in India. Say no to all forms of tourism that would remove Indigenous peoples from their homelands.

Tourism Alert and Action Forum