For Immediate release
30 March 2012
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took up the case of land-grabbing, diversion of forest land in Patharia reserve forest pushing around 300 families of forest dwellers into the condition of starvation and homeless. The human rights watchdog of the nation registered case in the matter as case number 99/3/10/2012 on a complaint filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) after it conducted a fact-finding study of the situation. Along with the NHRC the BHRPC also wrote other authorities including the prime minister, Assam chief minister, union forest and environment minister and others.
The (BHRPC) informed the authorities that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of Assam have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen allegedly in connivance with the local politician and minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly for rubber plantation in a Pecharpar, Satkorgul, Mokkergul, Bhitorgul and other villages where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail.
The BHRPC found that it was prima facie a case of diversion of forest land for non-forest commercial purpose of rubber plantation as well as a case of criminal trespass and taking illegal possession of land held by both the department of environment and forest in Patharia reserve forest and the villagers of Pecharpar under titles of farag and uninterrupted possession for generations that are good against the whole world violating the community rights of protection of environment and ecological balance and individual right to lead a life with dignity. The Silchar-based rights group contended that the activities are in flagrant violations of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court of India in orders passed from time to time in T N Godavarman Thirumuilpad Vs Union of India and Others (WP (C) No 202 of 1995). The BHRPC further contended that the people who have been living in and holding the forest land for generations are "other traditional forest dwellers" within the meaning of clause (o) of section 2 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known as Forest Rights Act-- FRA) and they are entitled to all the rights enumerated in sub-section (1) of section 3 of the FRA including the right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood. It is also alleged that the criminal activities against the villagers with the alleged support of the minister constitute violations of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution of India and human rights enshrined in many international human rights instrument to which India is a state party.
The BHRPC demanded the authorities to stop immediately felling of trees and destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers; to provide the villagers with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; to provide adequate security to the victims and witnesses; to conduct promptly a fair and objective inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; to recognize immediately the rights of the traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations; to settle the khas land that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless in their names as per government policy; and to take all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers.
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Waliullah Ahmed Laskar
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