Public Hearing on the Non- Implementation of Forest Rights and the Oppression of Forest Dwellers in Forest Areas of Lakhimpur Khiri
On: 9th of September 2014
At: Palia Kalan, Lakhimpur Khiri district, Uttar Pradesh
The Public Hearing to be held on 9th September at Palia Kala, LakhimpurKhiri district aims at bringing attention to the conflict, violence and atrocities inflicted upon the forest people of the Tarai region in Uttar Pradesh. The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 recognizes the "historical injustices" done to the people living in the forests. However, the Indian Parliament has not defined the nature of such injustice, or the forces that have been responsible for the same. Yet, this Act is a significant step towards creating a democratic and political space within forest areas in the country. It is also a weapon in the hands of forest dwellers to fight the atrocities of the Forest Department and it’s allies.
Lakimpur Khiri is second largest district in UP with the most dense and rich forest cover. The district is part of the Tarai region, which extends along the Nepal border. The forest region is inhabited by Tharu tribes and other marginalised communities such as Dalit and Other Backward Communities (OBC). Even after coming of the FRA, major conflict between the Forest Department, District Administration, Judiciary and other powerful forces have continued. Dominant feudal communities in these areas have been opposing the claims for democratic rights within the forests. Apart from this the environmental lobby has also been opposed to the civil and constitutional rights of forest people inside the National Park and Sanctuaries.
While there is strong pressure from the community to implement this Act, there is no political will on the part of the state to implement the same. The Tarai region has many "Forest Villages" known as Taungiya, as well as other forest villages that were settled during British regime to plant vast forests, primarily for commercial purposes. These villages are now to be recognized as Revenue Villages according to FRA. But except for a few such as Surma in Khiri, two villages in Gonda and two villages in Baharaich, around 30 villages are yet to be converted to Revenue villages.
Apart from the above, there are significant community and community resource rights that are yet to be recognized under this Act. But as yet, efforts to recognize such rights have not taken place at the State level. The delay in recognition is resulting in mounting conflict between the people and state. People, especially women are becoming politically conscious about their rights and are not leaving any stone unturned to claim rights that have consistently been snatched by the State since the British rule. The entire area of Lakhimpur Khiri has also witnessed vibrant people's movement under the leadership of women in the last one and a half decade, which has brought many positive results.
It is the relentless effort of local organizations with active support of National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (Now All India Union of Forest People) that fought democratic and mass struggles in these areas, that has led to the implementation of the FRA in the area. A major achievement has been the reversal of the judgment by the High Court to evict the Surma Forest Village from the Dudhwa National Park in 2003. The community had lost their case in the High Court in 2003, when the Court had ordered the eviction and relocation without verification, under pressure from the environmental lobby. The community resisted the eviction and it was blessing in disguise when the Indian Parliament enacted the FRA in 2006. By building a strong people's movement and engaging in a political dialogue with the UP Govt. In 2008, the High Court order was sent to Law and Justice Department to review by the Govt. In 2011 the order was reversed and the State Govt. took a resolution to convert the Surma village into a revenue village. The conversion process has also now started.
But such success is unpalatable to existing vested interests and violent attacks on forest communities have taken place. The attack on Nabada Rana by the police and the Forest Department on 20th January 2012, the current attack on Dilawar Nagar village in Mohamaddi Tehsil, and the filing of false cases on hundreds of forest people are glaring examples of such conflicts. Such attacks have resulted in a vibrant struggle against atrocities committed by Forest Department.
The Case of Dilawar Nagar
Dilawar Nagar has been fighting for recognition of their village as forest village since the last one decade under the strong leadership of women. The people were removed from their village in 2005 when their village was burnt to ashes by the order of the then Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Tulsi Ram and the Forest Department. The fire as well as repeated attacks on the village led to the dispersal of the communities, and it was only in 2008 that the people got organized under the AIUFWP and started an organized struggle against the forest officials. They have continued to carry on their struggle with the help of FRA. The administration, Forest Department and local vested interests are leaving no stone unturned to sabotage the village’s struggle by resorting to illegal and brutal measures. In such a move on the 6th of June 2014 in Dilawar Nagar, 300 houses belonging to Dalit and Adivasi and other forest dwellers were burnt down. While there are as yet no conclusive clues as to what caused the fire, villagers strongly assert the involvement of the Forest Department officials. The communities affected by the recent fire were till 1988 living in the Puranpur Tehsil of District Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, till the Sharda river flood washed away their land and the people were rendered homeless for three years. In 1991 the families were resettled in Dilawar Nagar, Gram Panchayat, SimraJanipur, Tehsil Mohammadi, LakhimpurKheri.
Even though many cases were filed against the officials, no charges have been pressed until now. The process of claiming legal entitlements under the Forest Rights Act have also been disrupted by the Forest Department, and cognizance of this incidence and the possible involvement of the forest department officials has been taken by NHRC, as well as various media sources. The National Human Rights Commission has clearly stated that the processes at play in Dilawar Nagar is a violation of the Right to Life and Shelter – that are constitutional provisions.
Compounding the above issues, only minimal rehabilitative measures have been carried out. 300 families of more than a thousand people are still homeless and out of these, only 110 have been provided a paltry compensation of Rs. 5700. There has been no investigation to ascertain the cause of the fire and the district officials have resisted all efforts to address people’s problems.
In response to these atrocities, the Delhi Solidarity Group in collaboration with the All India Union for Forest Working People (AIUFWP), is holding a Public Hearing on 9th of September at Palia Kalan, Lakhimpur Khiri district in Uttar Pradesh so that the forest people from the affected area can depose the matter in front of the larger public. The public hearing will be presided over by an independent panel comprising of concerned individuals from related fields and expertise. The panelists will be visiting Dilawar Nagar on 8th of September to do the fact finding, followed by a public hearing on the 9th of September. The members of the panel are as follows:
- Mannu Lal Markam (Retired District Judge, Madhya Pradesh)
- Smita Gupta (Senior Economist at the Indian School of Women’s Studies and Development, New Delhi)
- Viren Lobo (Activist, Indian Community Activist Network)
- Dr. Kamal Nayan Choubey (PUDR, Delhi)
- Prof. Sanjay (Associate Professor in Political Science from LakhimpurKhiri)
The public hearing will focus on cases related to the following key issues:- Rights of forest dwellers and the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 in forest areas of Lakhimpur Khiri.
- The oppression of women and their struggle against the forest and district administration.
- The incident of fire in Dilawar Nagar on 6th of June, and the involvement of forest officials and the damages to the forest dwellers due to the fire.
- Filling of false cases against the forest people in Lakhimpur Khiri.
The public hearing hopes to bring to the forefront, the issue of Forest Rights and the oppression of forest dwellers in the Lakhimpur Khiri region of UP.
On behalf of:
Delhi Solidarity Group
All India Union of Forest Working People(AIUFWP)
For further queries contact:
Shefali - 9582671784
Shweta - 9911528696
Ishita - 08527325400
Rajnish (AIUFWP) - 0800989223
F 10/12 (Basement),
Malviya Nagar,New Delhi-110017
Phone: 011 - 26680883 (O), 9582671784 (M)