BY Aarti Tikoo Singh
New Delhi, April 14 (IANS) Even as Maoists have issued death threats against the activists involved in the process of implementation of habitat rights to tribals in Abujhmad in Chattisgarh, the state government has not buckled.
Last week, Maoists of the Mad divisional committee of Communist Party of India (Maoists) pasted leaflets on trees saying that they were opposed to habitat rights. The letter said the party has sentenced Ramji Dhurwa, the chief of Madia Samaj, to death in its court and its execution was pending.
Dhurwa has been working hard to arrange meetings between the members of the tribal community of Abujhmad, the only unsurveyed area of around 4000 sq km in India, which is under the control of Naxals and notoriously known as ‘liberated zone’ for the implementation of habitat rights.
The Bhupesh Bhagel government has granted habitat rights to 40,000 dwellers of Abujhmad, in Orchha tehsil of Narayanpur district. Section 3(1)(e) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, or Forest Rights Act (FRA), entitles particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) with habitat rights over their entire habitation and ensures protection of their culture and way of life.
Of the 75 tribal groups classified as PVTGs, Abujhmadias living in Dandakaranya forest are one. They can apply for habitat rights as a community for the entire region where the community lives and uses for their habitation. No PVTG in the country have got habitat rights yet.
As per guidelines of habitat rights, a district level committee which constitutes a collector, district forest officer and assistant commissioner tribal welfare should work with the community to apply for the habitat right for the community.
Dhurwa told IANS that he is being threatened because he wants basics like roads, hospitals and educational institutions for the people of his community.
Maoists have also asked all the village elders who attended the meetings to apologize, he said.
Opposing the habitat rights, the Maoists said in their leaflet that they wanted tribals to fight for complete rights — water, land and forest and not get “dissuaded by these government traps.”
The Maoists also claimed that habitat rights will give only one or two acres of forest to the tribals and the rest will be given to the industry.
An effort to get habitat rights for Abujhmadia tribals started in last June under the leadership of Sarv Adivasi Samaj, a conglomeration of all tribals groups in the state. The effort was facilitated by the New Peace Process in Central India, headed by tribal rights activist, Shubhranshu Choudhary.
So far four meetings with participants from more than 190 villages of Abujhmad have taken place on habitat rights.
The Maoist threat identified Choudhary as Dhurwa’s friend and both of them as agents of the government and corporations.
Choudhary, convener for the new peace process, told IANS, “Habitat Rights can give rights over the entire Abujhmad region to the Abujhmadia community as some of them are fighting for the same with guns now. The Forest Rights Act is an outcome of a long struggle by democratic forces in the country and I hope the Maoists will respect it for the benefit of the tribals who are fighting with them from many decades now.
In the last several years, a considerable number of Abujhmadias have joined Maoists because the Maoists have persuaded them that they will be deprived of their natural resources (water, land and forest) by the government and corporations.
Advisor to Chief Minister Bhagel, Rajesh Tiwari, said, “Maoists fear that once the basic rights and necessities of tribals are taken care of, they will become irrelevant and they will have no issues to sell. They realize that the Bhagel government is working for the welfare of the tribals. That is why these threats,” he said.
He told IANS that the work on habitat rights will continue after the lockdown is lifted.