7 8 2011
ISSUES: Right to land; right to food; rights of indigenous people; right to housing
In October 2010, forest officials belonging to Taljaring beat of Junagarh block destroyed the houses of 12 Kandha tribal families who were living in Hardaguda Village, Bhawanipatna block, Kalahandi District, Orissa. Kandha tribes are traditionally engaged in hunting and collecting fruits and roots from the forest mainly depending on forest resources for food. Without any prior notice, the officials demolished the houses dragging out and verbally abusing the women. According to the officials, the Kandha families were illegally living in the reserved forest area. The Hardaguda village is located in the border of three villages — Chancher, Taljaring, and Dedara. Kandha tribes were living on the bank of Sagada River without revenue status.
These 12 families have been living in the village for last 9 years since 2002. The ancestors had lived in Hardaguda in around 1922-23 doing agriculture, but all shifted to Gudang village of Chancher Gram Panchayat located in the same block as they were facing threats from the wild animals. However, 12 Kandha families came back to settle down in Hardaguda village in 2002 seeking food and livelihood. No administration has intervened into their settlement nor informed the families of their residential status until the forest officials came to destroy the houses without prior notice in October 2010, which is 8 years after the families’ settlement.
While the Kandha families were living in Hardaguda village since 2002, they had no proper road communication, electricity, and safe drinking water, public health, and education facilities as these needs were totally ignored by the administration. They were happy with their agriculture and forest produce but after demolition, the families face serious food insecurity.
Kandha’s critical living condition received media and civil society’s attention in April 2011 including the District level Vigilance and Monitoring Committee for Scheduled Tribe & Scheduled Caste (prevention of Atrocities) Act. The District Collector of Kalahandi ordered the sub-Collector and the District Welfare Officer (DWO) to visit the village and submit a report before the Committee. The Collector also ordered the officers to find out ways to support the community for providing housing support first and then to rehabilitate them in a proper manner.
The local human rights group, ANTODAYA with the villagers met the District and Sessions Judge (Chairman of the District Legal Services Authority Kalahandi) on May 1. The Villagers asked the District Judge to lodge their complaint for legal assistance in the case. Subsequently on July 5, the sub-Collector and the DWO with the help of local human rights organization visited the village. The DWO advised the villagers to file the claim under Forest (Rights) Act 2006.
When the case was reported, the children who were separated from their families came to the village and started building their houses. Previously there were 12 families but now 22 families are staying in the village. At present, five more families living in neighboring villages Gudang and Supli have also started constructing their houses in Hardaguda where their ancestors had lived. However, till today, neither their claims on the land have been settled nor have they been provided any benefit from the government schemes, whereas the forest department does not take any responsibility for the Kandha tribe. No punishment or disciplinary action has been taken against those forest officials.
This is not the only case of violence committed by forest officials. There is reportedly a list of incidents from all over India regarding the brutality of the forest official’s behaviour against tribes. The forest officials always restrict tribes in living area and in collecting produce from the forest. On the contrary, the Supreme Court of India highlighted the historical injustice against tribes in 2011.
“The injustice done to the tribes of India is a shameful chapter in country’s history. Woefully noting the sad state of adivasis (indigenous people in Sanskrit), the Court described as “original inhabitants of India”. The Supreme Court in its decision in Jan 2011 (Kailas & others v. State of Maharashtra – AIR 2011 SC 598] declared that it is “time now to undo the historical injustice to them”.
As far as the issue of reserved forest is concerned, according to the Indian Forest Act 1927, the forest department should conduct survey about all families living in forest areas. After survey, the department should provide lease of land to the people. In this case, forest department infringed the law. The forest department of Orissa has not conducted survey which is the gross violation of constitution of India and due to which tribal people living in the forests are deprived of their land rights and food security.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 recognises the rights of forest-dwellers including tribes over the land that they have been cultivating or residing prior to December 2005, as also rights to use, manage, and protect forest resources. Similarly to Hardaguda village, the District Welfare officer advised to file the claims under Forest (rights) Act. However, the officer did not take more active steps for the families who are the victims of human rights violation committed by the forest officials — the state.
The section 4(5) of Act states,
“Save as otherwise provided, no member of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dweller shall be evicted or removed from forest land under his occupation till the recognition and verification procedure is complete.”
Section 7 of the Act states that those who are guilty of an offence under the Act shall be punished with the fine which may extend to Rs. 1,000.
The Saxena Committee report on the implementation of Forest right Act in Orissa explained that “the process has not proceeded beyond the initial stages, for various reasons”, exposing the apathy of the Orissa government who are legally obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of indigenous people as a state party of the internati
onal human rights laws. Given that the tribes are the most vulnerable social group where food insecurity and extreme poverty are concerned, the Orissa government, who has a higher number of tribes than any other state, continues to fail to realize the food security and equality of tribes.
The tribes are mostly dependent upon the forests for their food and livelihood. The forest officials who destroyed the houses violated article 10 of UN Declarations on the rights of Indigenous people which mentions that Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.
5 August 2011