Five organizations of the Northeast fighting for the rights of the indigenous people of the region in a joint statement termed the proposed amendment to the Indian Forest Act 1927 as ‘draconian’ in nature.
The organizations have demanded that the current draft Indian Forest Act be completely withdrawn.
The joint statement has been issued on Tuesday by Borok Peoples’ Human Rights Organization (BPHRO), Indigenous Women Forum of North East India (IWFNEI), Karbi Human Rights Watch (KHRW), Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) and Zo Indigenous Forum (ZIF).
“The proposed amendment to the Indian Forest Act 1927 (IFA) is more colonial and frightening than before,” the statement said.
It also said the proposed amendment to the IFA “attempts to undo and take away the existing rights of indigenous and tribal people on lands, territories and resources in the Northeast states”.
The organizations said approximately 8 million hectares of forest land, which is traditionally controlled by the community, will be “taken over” by the forest bureaucracy of the respective States.
“The amendment outrightly disregards and attempts to reverse the forest rights vested on forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) which was intended to finally undo the gross historical injustice and discrimination meted out to the tribal peoples,” it added.
The organizations further said the proposed amendment is a “conspiracy to deny the powers of the state over ownership and transfer of lands and its resources specifically protected under Article 371 A for Nagaland and Article 371 G for Mizoram, and the power and control over forests other than reserved forests in VI Schedule Areas Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, and of the autonomous councils constituted by state laws in Assam and Manipur”.
The amendment to the Indian Forest Act 1927 was forwarded by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of Indian, to the States and Union Territories for comments in March 2019 claiming that the proposed amendment is envisaged to overcome the contemporary challenges of India’s forest.
“The amendment was drafted by a core committee consisting of mainly forest bureaucrats without taking the right-holders and stakeholders, particularly the indigenous peoples and Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), into confidence,” the statement said..
It has been alleged that no State governments in Northeast India has organized right-holders and stakeholders’ consultation on the draft as directed by the ministry.
“The central government falsely claims that this British colonial law is intended to bring the law to be in sync with India’s current international commitments on conservation,” it added.
The organizations further said the draft amendment is a “calculated move by the government to dismantle the age-old strong community forest governance in Northeast India and in other parts of the country”.
Demanding the government to completely withdraw the draft the organizations further reiterated that “there cannot be a good policy or law without adequate discussions and consultations, particularly with the rights-holders, including the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), which is a major stakeholder in forest governance and nodal ministry for FRA.