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Forest bill evokes mixed response

Ranchi/Jamshedpur, Dec. 16: There was mixed reaction in the state to the passage of the forest dwellers’ bill — Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill — by the Lok Sabha on Friday, even as several hundred activists are learnt to have staged a demonstration in New Delhi to protest against some of the clauses.

Sanjay Basu Mullick of the Jungle Bachao Andolan, speaking from New Delhi, said that the bill left much to be desired. While it allows rights to forest dwellers, he maintained, it is silent on people who live on the periphery but depend on the forest for their livelihood.

What is more, the bill, he said, laid down restrictions that limit rights to 75 years or up to three generations. This is far too vague a provision, he pointed out.

In the state capital, too, there was apprehen- sion about the role of the Gram Sabha, specially in the absence of elected panchayats.

The bill, moreover, does not categorically say that the Gram Sabha will be the final arbiter — the decision having been left to the respective state governments.

Tribal intellectuals and activists also felt that with the onus of implementing the provisions resting on the forest department, the latter could favour non-tribal forest dwellers and create avoidable tension.

The bill should unequivocally state that Gram Sabhas, in other words the entire population of the village, should have the onus of implementing the provisions, they said. The Gram Sabha should be above the forest department, they added.

The bill, however, is yet to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha.

Some of them also appeared upset at the bill remaining silent over the traditional hunting rites observed by tribals, including Bishu Shikar.

But activists said they were happy over some of the amendments in the bill.

The final forest dwellers’ bill puts the cut-off date as December, 2005, instead of 1980 as the cut-off year. Also, instead of the earlier proposal of allowing 2.5 hectares of forestland to each family dwelling in the forests, the new bill allows for 4 hectares to be given to these families.

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