The Zo Indigenous Forum (ZIF) on Wednesday demanded the Mizoram government to consult with stakeholders as early as possible to oppose the draft Indian Forest Act, 2019 which will be prepared with an amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
Zo Indigenous Forum, a human rights-based indigenous people’s organization in Mizoram said the proposed amendment could have an adverse effect for the people of Mizoram.
“The proposed Indian Forest Act (Amendment) 2019 is contradictory to the special provision given under the Constitution of India in Article 371 (G),” said Albert L Haokip, director, Zo Indigeous Forum.
He said it is also contradictory with the indigenous peoples’ rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“It will threaten the rights of the autonomous district councils in the lines of the administration of justice, land and limited legislative power, management of forest, regulation of jhum cultivation and others,” he added.
According to the forum, the reasons the amendment could prove threatening to the Mizo people is the proposal to give power to prevent commission of offence under Section 66 (2) of the Act where any forest officer may use firearm for prevention of offence under the Act or under the Wildlife Act, with certain offences being non-bailable.
“This amendment would give forest officials power to shoot people without any liability, with the same legal protection as soldiers in disturbed areas under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act,” the forum said.
“It will allow forest officials to restrict or cancel rights and relocate people against their will,” the forum added.
The Act will also allegedly permit an arrest without a warrant where entering a forest would allegedly constitute a forest offence with the accused being detained on suspicious grounds.
The draft states that the government could take away the rights of forest dwellers if the government feels it is not in line with conservation of the proposed reserved forest.
The central government will also over rule the state government if there is a contradiction on how the authorities believe the forests should be utilized.
The main form of agriculture in Mizoram is shifting agriculture which will allegedly be prohibited within a span of five years under Section 3.10 of the Amendment Act.
On March 7, the first draft was published and sent to all states for comments.
“In the letter, they mentioned that states should have stakeholders’ consultation and the report should be sent in 90 days. The Mizoram government has not organised stakeholders’ consultation despite the deadline being over,” said Lalremruata, executive council member of Zo Indigenous Forum.
According to the India State of Forest Report 2017, the total forest cover in Mizoram is 18, 186 sq km (86.27% of states geographical area), 79.47% reserved forest and 20.53% unclassed forest.