Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hundreds of Adivasis march into Mumbai

MUMBAI, March 16, 2011

Seventy-five-year-old Tukaram Vithal Gholap has walked for over three days from his village in Murbad (Thane district) to demand land rights. "I have fines from the Forest Department since 1969, which means I used to cultivate that land since then," he said. Yet the Forest Department, which measured his land, confirmed only 29 gunthas (less than one acre), whereas he staked claim for about six acres.

A tired Tukaram marched with hundreds of other Adivasis to Mumbai on Tuesday to demand the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of rights) Act 2006. Since March 1, hundreds of Adivasis have been walking under the banner of the Karmaveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad Jungle Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti to protest the non-implementation of the Act. About 20 organisations are part of this Samiti. People from Nandurbar in the north of the State to Jalgaon, Dhule, Thane and Raigad came together to stage a protest on Azad Maidan in Mumbai to tell the government that the implementation of the Act, which was supposed to end historical injustice faced by Adivasis, was shoddy. They want community rights to forests to be recognised, including the right to forest protection and management.

Tukaram has all his documents in neatly laminated plastic, including his school leaving certificate. He keeps visiting the Forest Department offices in Murbad to no avail.

Like him, Sujaram Wadvi has come all the way from Umaj, Nandurbar. He, like others, migrates for work every year. "We still have to get rights to the land which we have been cultivating for many years," he said. Janguna Chima from Mokhada taluka in Thane district said: "We hope the government will hear us now." Her family has been cultivating five acres of land, but has received no title till now.

The main contention is that only 32 per cent of the total claims have been approved in Maharashtra, while a large number have been rejected.

Ulka Mahajan from the Samiti said after a delegation of representatives met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Tuesday, he assured them that all rejected claims would be reviewed and scrutinised by the District Collectors. Cases where less land was allotted against the claim would also be reviewed.

Land would be surveyed by the taluka inspector of land records and weightage would be given to land under possession and not cultivation, Ms. Mahajan said.

Last year, the then Chief Secretary, J.P. Dange, did away with the need to measure land before allotting it, leading to chaos.

Adivasis will have representation on the State monitoring committee. The Chief Minister said he would review the situation every three months.

It was also decided to conduct training on granting community forest rights. As a result the State was lagging behind in granting community forest rights claims.

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