People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 05, 2010



Large Adivasi Rallies Assert Right to Forestland


Mariam Dhawale


ON August 25, two large rallies --- at Jawhar in Thane district and Nashik in Nashik district --- condemned the Congress-NCP state government of Maharashtra for its callous non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and demanded that forestland, which lakhs of adivasis (tribal people) had been cultivating for decades, must be vested in their names at once. Held under the banner of the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (National Tribal rights Forum), a remarkable feature of both these rallies was that they were held in the thick of the monsoon, despite the agricultural season being in full swing.

The rally at Jawhar was held in front of the office of additional collector of Thane district and it mobilised over 20,000 adivasis from 10 tehsils of Thane district. The rally at Nashik was held in front of the office of divisional commissioner and it mobilised over 15,000 adivasis from the five north Maharashtra districts of Nashik, Nandurbar, Dhule, Ahmednagar and Jalgaon, with the lionís share coming from Nashik district. Both the rallies were awash with thousands of red flags. Rallies for FRA implementation have also been held in Ahmednagar, Yavatmal, Amravati and Nanded districts. The AIKS, AIAWU, AIDWA and DYFI had mobilised in strength for all these rallies.   




It is now over three and a half years since the passage of the Forest Rights Act in parliament in December 2006, as a result of the constant pressure of the Left parties and Left MPs on the UPA-1 central government. Huge rallies of adivasis were held under the leadership of the CPI(M) in several tribal districts of Maharashtra in December 2006 and January 2007 to hail the enactment of the Forest Rights Act. These rallies together mobilised over 1,00,000 people and some of the major rallies were addressed by Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau members and MPs.

In Maharashtra, the demand and the struggle for getting forestland vested in the names of the adivasis is an old one. The first massive demonstration for this demand was held in Thane district as early as in 1960 by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) under the leadership of late comrades, Shamrao Parulekar and Godavari Parulekar, two legendary leaders of the Adivasi Revolt of the mid-1940s. The struggle spread to Nashik district in the 1970s under the leadership of another AIKS stalwart, Narendra Malusare. Since 1945, 59 adivasi activists in Thane district and three activists in Nashik district, all owing allegiance to the Communist Party, have been martyred. Most of them have been killed in struggles against the government, the police and the forest department on this very land question.

For over a year after the enactment of the FRA, the state government did virtually nothing for its implementation. A CPI(M) state delegation met the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, deplored this state of affairs and submitted a memorandum demanding immediate action.  It was only in the middle of 2008 that the initial steps began for FRA implementation.

The CPI(M), AIKS, AIAWU, AIDWA and DYFI in the tribal districts of Maharashtra then swung into action. With their initiative, hundreds of vanadhikar (forest rights) village committees were elected in gram sabhas in districts like Nashik, Thane, Nandurbar, Ahmednagar, Yavatmal, Amravati, Nanded and Jalgaon. The CPI(M) state committee published a special pamphlet on the FRA and this was widely sold in the tribal districts. Workshops, conventions and meetings were organised in each district to explain the FRA and its procedure to the activists. The vanadhikar village committees began an extensive campaign of preparing individual applications in the prescribed form for forestland, along with the proofs that were required. With the CPI(M)ís inititative, around one lakh such applications from both tribals and other traditional forest dwellers were filed in Maharashtra.

But the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in Maharashtra over the last three and a half years has been scandalous, to say the least. In fact, it appears to be aimed at ensuring that the tribals are, by hook or by crook, actually denied the right to the forestland that they have been cultivating for generations. There have been inordinate delays at every governmental level, from the tehsil upwards, in the simple matter of even acceptance of FRA applications. Government officials have then been harassing the Adivasis for furnishing additional proofs. GPS machines for measuring the land are extremely few and each machine can measure only around 20 plots per day. At this rate, it will take years to process the lakhs of FRA applications that have been submitted.      




However, the unkindest cut of all came recently when the government authorities began a campaign of rejecting thousands of FRA applications. For instance, from the information given by the authorities to the delegations of the August 25 rallies, only 15,000 appplications out of over 1,00,000 in Thane district have so far been cleared. Similarly, only 17,351 of the 50,336 applications in Nashik district have been cleared. Just 600 of the 2,200 applications in the Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district have been cleared. Hardly any land pattas have so far been actually distributed. Even as regards the applications that have been cleared, very few have been sanctioned the quantum of land that they actually cultivate. Most have been sanctioned less than one tenth of what they had claimed. One major reason for all this is the undue interference of the forest department which is illegally exercising its veto to ensure that thousands of FRA applications are rejected. This is a glaring contradiction, since the forest department has been kept out of the process by the FRA itself.

These were the burning issues raised by the August 25 rallies at Jawhar and Nashik. At both places, seeing the strength and militancy of the demonstrations, government officials had to assure the leadership that concrete corrective steps would be taken to ensure the effective implementation of the FRA. Assurances were also given as regards the PDS, NREGA and other issues afflicting tribals.

The Jawhar rally was addressed by CPI(M) state secretary and Central Committee member Dr Ashok Dhawale, state secretariat members Lahanu Kom, Rajaram Ozare (MLA) and Mariam Dhawale, state committee members L B Dhangar, Barkya Mangat, Edward Vartha and Ratan Budhar, district secretariat members Shivram Girandhala, Ladak Kharpade, Baban Kakra and Jayaram Janathe, district committee members Santi Malavkar, Sangeeta Ozare, Rasila Dhodi, Sunil Dhanva, Madhukar Dovala and Chandrakant Jadhav.

The Nashik rally was addressed by CPI(M) Central Committee member Kumar Shiralkar, state secretariat member J P Gavit, state committee members Kisan Gujar, Jaisingh Mali, Prakash Choudhary, Sitaram Thombre, Janardan Bhoye and Nathu Salve, district committee members Dr Ajit Nawale, L R Rao, Irfan Shaikh, Gunaji Gavit, Savliram Pawar, Laxman Gaikwad, Devidas Adole, Rama Mahale, Narsing Vasave, Bajya Valvi, Dwarkabai Bhil, Vijay Patil and Mangala Gosavi, as well as Dada Shinde, Sanjabai Khambait, Adv Dnyaneshwar Kakad, Tulshiram Katore and others.

Both the rallies warned that if immediate action was not taken by the government on the FRA, an unprecedented Jail Bharo stir would be launched all over Maharashtra in the days ahead.