Monday, November 16, 2009

Efforts start to restore status of Chandauli tribals

Rajeev Dikshit, TNN 15 November 2009, 10:48pm IST


VARANASI: After a long strife for identity, a ray of hope finally breaks out for the forest dwellers of Chandauli. They may soon get their right to
forest property as per the Forest Rights Bill 2006. Divisional commissioner Nepal Singh Ravi has ordered the Chandauli administration and the forest department to launch a survey to identify genuine forest dwellers.

Delay in restoring the status of Scheduled Tribe to the traditional forest dwellers is still forcing them to live like `encroachers' on their own land in the Maoist-affected Chandauli district. They were unable to get benefits due to them under Forest Rights Bill 2006 due to that very reason. But, now the state government appears to be looking for a quick solution.

The commissioner told TOI on Sunday: "If genuine forest dwellers are given their due recognition, a major problem will be solved and they will become genuine owners of forest land as per the bill. Until the tribal people, who are now termed as encroachers, are traditional forest dwellers by confirming that they have been living there for three generations or more than 75 years, they cannot be given the benefits as per the bill. Keeping the same facts in mind, I have ordered the Chandauli administration and forest officials to go through the revenue records, even of British period, to know whether the villages of such forest dwellers existed or not."

If these villages existed in those records, it would be automatically proved that the claims of such forest dwellers on the property of the forest as per the bill was genuine, he added. Though, the state police have succeeded in keeping the Maoist ultras on back foot in the district for the past four-five years, the fact cannot be denied that depriving the forest dwellers of their rights may enable them to get local support and strengthen their organisation here. The government has now realised that by giving rights to forest dwellers by implementing this bill here will be an effective check on Maoists.

Forest dwellers in other Maoist-affected districts like Mirzapur and Sonebhadra are not facing problems like Chandauli. The tug-of-war between chief minister Mayawati and her arch rival and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had resulted in separation of Chandauli from Varanasi, re-merger and restoration of district in the past one decade. Those developments led to the end of ST status of the traditional forest dwellers and the forest department started treating them like encroachers.

Despite continuous correspondence, the Chandauli administration could not succeed in convincing the government to restore the ST status. The commissioner made it very clear that until the process was completed, implementation of the Forest Rights Bill 2006 would remain impossible in Chandauli. When the Chandauli administration had started pursuing the issue last year, those tribals who had lost their status of ST were found to be around 810. An area of 758.9 hectare was in their possession.

The commissioner said with the completion of survey, the process of implementation of bill would be started. A massive drive to remove real encroachers, who had emerged as land mafia, would also be launched simultaneously, he said and added he had compiled a list of such mafia elements who would be targeted in the proposed drive.

A brief history of Chandauli and its forest dwellers

# During her past regime, chief minister Mayawati had carved out Chandauli from Varanasi as a separate district in 1997

# But, this decision did not suit her rival SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who merged it again in Varanasi district in January 2004

# Finally a high court order helped in restoring the status of Chandauli district in July 2004

# But, in this tug-of-war, people of Chandauli particularly the jungle natives became the worst sufferer as they lost the status of traditional forest dwellers due to taking caste benefits in Varanasi district

# These developments put them in the category of encroachers in the records of the forest department and they were being treated like the land mafia who captured major land area of the forest

Status of forest land in Chandauli

# According to divisional forest office of Kashi Vanya Jeev Prabhag, a total of 5,034 hectare forest land was encroached upon, out of which 482 hectare was made free of encroachment

# During the anti-encroachment drive, mainly the major land mafia were targeted. However, one Mohan Singh, who has captured about 500 hectare forest land, proved to be a challenge. He managed to got a stay order from revenue council against 97-acre of land which he had occupied with the help of fake revenue papers

# Apart from 15-20 major land mafia, 393 land grabbers belonged to general category who have captured 758.9 hectare of forest land

# The area of 1994.3 hectare land has been captured by 4,488 people from OBC category while 3,932 people from SC category have encroached 1,418.12 hectare

# People from tribal populace, who have presently lost their status of ST, are in the strength of 810. An area of 758.9 hectare is in their possession

Efforts made for the restoration of ST status of Chandauli forest dwellers

# The Chandauli police and district administration started pursuing the government to restore the ST status of the natives in June 2007

# Again in June 2008, the Chandauli administration forwarded a proposal to the chief minister in this regard

# In March last, the Chandauli administration was asked by the state government to form forest committees to identify forest dwellers staying on forest land for three generations

# But, before the committee could be formed to start this process, the notification of parliamentary elections was issued and the issue was put on backburner

Why ST status to forest dwellers is a must?

# The bid to uproot the forest dwellers from their land had yielded bitter results in the past. The Chandauli police and administration have not forgotten the 2004 Naugarh blast that claimed the lives of 16 PAC and police personnel. When the forest department removed the huts of 74 petty encroachers, the local modules of Maoists had called Bihar-based ultras to execute the plan of Naugarh blast and the local forest dwellers extended their silent support to them

# Due to the same reason, the Chandauli district administration decided to contemplate using this bill as a major weapon against Maoist menace

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