Protest by about 1 lakh people on 30 December 2008 at Gudalur Taluk, Nilgiri District, Tamilnadu
For Demands and Declarations: See below
* Gudalur Revenue Division Population: 2.23 lakhs (2001) of whom about over 13,000 tare Scheduled Tribes (Kurumbas., Irulas, Paniyas, Kothar, Kattunaikkar); Consists of two taluks: Gudalur and Pandalur taluks with a total area of approximately 124,800 acres.
* Under Janmom Lands (Abolition and Conversion into Ryotwari) Act 1969 notified in 1974, the Janmom lands of Nilambur Kovilakam of Kerala (held under the under the Malabar Tenancy Act), of a total of 80,087.74 acres was taken over by the Tamilnadu Government. Of this, 28,087.03 acres were settled while the remaining 52,000.71 acres are yet to be settled despite 35 years of the coming into force of the Act. Section 53 of the Act empowers the Settlement Officer to decide whether an area in the Janmom lands should be included in government forests. 12,928 acres were categorized under this section to be effectively The Plantation lease covered under Section 17 of the Act covers 41,768.40 acres which are under the control of 91 plantations (11 of which are major). As per original leases signed with Nilambur Kovilakam, the area under plantations should be 19,644.19 acres with a further 32,356.52 acres as 'undeveloped forest'. This has resulted in the following: - non-recognition of land and livelihood rights; - land grab by the powerful and the emergence of the land mafia taking advantage of the unsettled nature of the lands, and the resultant violence and atrocities; - fraudulent sales of lands already in enjoyment by the poor and disadvantage by the powerful taking advantage of the unsettled nature of the lands. - fraudulent grant of pattas to ineligible land grabbers
The first evictions were in 1978 and proceeded until 1981 accompanied by widespread violence, when Louis, a small landholder immolated himself in protest at eviction and a local uproar ensued. Yet till date, the status of 52,000.71 acres is not decided.
* The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case (Writ Petition 202 of 1995, T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India) by Godavarman Thirumulpad of Nilambur Kovilakam of Kerala sought government intervention to prevent large scale illicit felling of timber from forests in Gudalur. This has come to be known famously as the 'Forest Case' which led to the infamous Ministry of Environment & Forest directive of May 3, 2002, to summarily evict "all illegal encroachment of forestlands in various States/ Union Territories" before September 30, 2002.
* Under the guise of Supreme Court's 12.12.1996 order in WP 202/95 at the insistance of the Forest Department , the Nilgiri District Collector banned all development activities since 30.01.2006 in O'Valley Panchayat. The reason cited is that the Panchayat assigned one survey number is considered to be 'forest' by the Forest Department. O'Valley Panchayat with about 32,000 population have been deprived of their legal entitlement to roads and road improvement, drinking water supplies, repairs to public structures such as schools, hospitals, anganwadis, etc. (leading to approximately 5000 students' education being affected), and benefits under the Hill Areas Development Scheme, the MP Local Area Development Scheme, the MLA Local Area Development Fund, and other government schemes. This is in spite of Supreme Court's own directions in IA 15 in WP 202/95 of 11.02.1997 which states:
"Learned counsel appearing for some of the applicants submitted that a direction be given to the effect that no eviction may be made from any land or building containing machinery and equipment or any other facilities for housing, school, or dispensary etc. in the meantime, on the basis of this Court's order dated 12.12.1996.We consider it appropriate to do so.It is accordingly directed that our earlier order dated 12.12.1996 is not to be considered to mean that it directs any such eviction in the meantime having the consequence of disturbing the existing status."
* More than 12,000 families in Gudalur Taluka alone have filed claims to rights under the 1990 Guidelines of the MoEF for settlement of rights in 2005-6 to the District Collector which has not been acted upon.
* There is a proposal to acquire private patta lands in this region to the extent of 398 acres for which the Government has sanctioned Rs. 2.68 crore for the acquisition by the Forest Department of which Rs. 181.45 lakhs is to acquire an extent of 320.95 acres in Moyar and Rs. 86.22 lakh is to acquire 76.984 acres in Kallar Jaccanari, adjacent to the jurisdiction of the Kotagiri Range.
* The Mudumalai Wildlife Sactuary was notified in 1940 originally 60 sq kms which was later enlarged to 295 sq kms in 1956 and now to 321 sq kms. This entire area has now been illegally notified as Critical Tiger Habitat. A 'buffer zone' of about 500 sq km area around this illegal Mudumalai Critical Tiger Habitat is now proposedcovering most of the Taluk.
In the name of tiger conservation, the Forest Department is trying to seize our lands and resources and deny our legal rights to our lands and for our communities to protect and conserve the forests and wildlife.
1. Withdraw the Illegal Notification of Mudumalai Wild Life Sanctuary and National Park as 'Critical Tiger Habitat'
Since "Project Tiger" was started in 1972, the Government of India has spent a lot of money in the name of protecting tigers in India.But from the beginning Project Tiger used the British model of "protection" where removing local people from the area was seen as necessary to protect tigers.
In 2006, the government amended the Wild Life (Protection) Act to include the category of "Tiger Reserve" as a new kind of protected area, as until then it was only a category used by the Forest Department without being defined in any law.In the 2006 amendment, a Tiger Reserve was defined to have two parts:
A "critical tiger habitat", which was the area to be kept "inviolate" - i.e. free of human activity.But before this could be done, the government was required to (a) first hold public consultations[38(V)5 ii WLPA 2006],
(b) obtain the consent of Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers in the area and
(c) obtain the opinion of experts on which areas should be set aside for this purpose [38(V)5 ii WLPA 2006].
2. A "buffer zone" where various restrictions can be imposed, but people can continue to live and work.The law is unclear on what kind of restrictions can be imposed, except that at a minimum it will include higher penalties for poisoning animals, breaking fences, encroachment etc.But the government has the power to can impose additional restrictions in the name of "promoting co-existence between wildlife and human activity" and "ensuring the integrity of the critical tiger habitat."The boundaries of the buffer zone have to be decided in consultation with the gram sabhas [38(V) 4 (ii) of WLPA 2006].
Further, a clear section was included stating that relocation of forest dwellers and Scheduled Tribes from critical tiger habitats is illegal unless:
(a)All the forest rights of these persons are recognised and recorded [38(V)5 i WLPA 2006] first under the Forest Rights Act;
(b)It is scientifically shown that these people are causing irreversible damage to tigers, and that this damage cannot be reduced by any option other than relocation [38(V)5 iii WLPA 2006];
(c)The forest dwellers and Scheduled Tribes consent to this claim, consent to being relocated and to the relocation package being offered to them [38(V)5 iii WLPA 2006];
(d)The relocation package provides a secure livelihood, not just cash compensation and should have the informed consent of the Gram Sabhas concerned [38(V)5 iv-vi WLPA 2006]; and
(e)Before relocating anyone, the government had to first investigate the options available for tigers and humans to "co-exist" in the area [38(V) 5 iii WLPA 2006].
The Ministry of Environment and Forest of the Government of India and the Tamilnadu State Government have violated every single one of the above mentionedlegal requirements.The entire Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary and national park have been notified as a critical tiger habitat.This now includes Mudumalai panchayat and part of Masinagudy panchayat of Gudalur Taluk.
In addition, there is a proposal to declare as 'buffer zone' about 500 sq km area around this illegal Mudumalai Critical Tiger Habitat, covering eight panchayats namely Gudalur, Srimadurai, Devarshola, Nellakottai, Mudumalai, Masinagudy, Sholur, Ebbanad and Kookal. The officials of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the Forest Department have been trying to force communities to consent so that it can draw as big a buffer zone as possible.It has been offering funds and promising development to people in the buffer zones, but it has not been informing them about what restrictions will be imposed on them that are deemed "necessary" for tiger conservation. It has not even provided the people the Tiger Conservation Plan that it is required to create under the Wild Life (Protection) Act. Similarly, it has refused to share details of how funds will be spent in the critical tiger habitats and buffer zones.
The entire purpose of this exercise is for the Forest Department to access Central government money and to deny the people of the area their rights.After the Forest Rights Act of 2006, the communities have the power to protect the forests and wildlife of the area.Instead of recognising their powers and respecting the law, the Department wants to grab more and more land and resources for its own benefit.
2. The Forest Rights Act 2006 should be immediately implemented, our rights be recorded, illegal harassment and theft of our resources be stopped and the forests and wild life be protected.
Under the Wild Life Protection Act Amendment 2006 the recognition of rights of the people is a precondition to declaration of the Critical Tiger Habitat.Theserights are now defined in the Forest Rights Act.Despite almost a year since the Forest Rights Act has become operational, the implementation of the Act is yet to begin in the Nilgiri district. This is a denial of our rights.
Any violation of our legitimate and legal rights to the forests by any officials is a criminal offence under Section 7 of the Forest Rights Act 2006. The Tamilnadu Government, Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department and the State Level Monitoring Committee should take cognizance of the violation of the Forest Rights Act and take immediate steps to implement the Act as well as initiate criminal proceedings for violations of the provisions of the Act against concerned officials.
3. Recognise the hamlet level Gram Sabha as the authority to determine the forest rights
We are also aware that when the Act is implemented the government will try to undermine it by calling gram sabhas at the level of each panchayat, as in the normal administrative gram sabha.The population in such a sabha may vary anywhere between say 15,000 to as much as 50,000.This will make it impossible to have any democratic functioning and will encourage corruption.
Considering these difficulties it is demanded that for the purpose of the Forest Rights Act it should be the assembly of the actual ooru – the oorukootam – which should be the authority for this Act.This alone will ensure that the Forest Rights Act which is to primarily benefit Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers can be implemented reasonably well as intended by the Act. The Act permits this under section 2(p) and it is being done in Kerala through government orders.
4. The first right to be determined and recognized is the right of the hamlet over 'community forest resource'
The Forest Rights Act protects the rights of the people to land, minor forest produce, water, grazing areas and other resources.But the most important right for the people is the right under the Act to protect, manage and conserve their 'community forest resources', which is all the forest land within the traditional or customary boundaries of the village.The Act also empowers the community to protect forests, wildlife, water sources and the natural and cultural heritage of the community, and to enforce any decisions made in the gram sabha (s. 5).
Therefore, as our villages claim and take over their traditional forest resources, the Forest Department must cease interfering with the community's powers. now has no power to control and manage this area and its resources 'community forest resource'.This part of the forests, its wildlife and biodiversity, are now to be a people's forest to be conserved, protected and managed democratically, justly and sustainably.The illegal notification of 'Critical Tiger Habitat', and therefore the illegal 'buffer zone', is to deny the people, especially the Adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers their legally granted rights and authority to the above mentioned rights.
The people of Gudalur hereby declare that all concerned hamlets will constitute and declare themselves to be the Gram Sabha for the purpose of determining the rights of the people under the Forest Rights Act 2006;
That the said Gram Sabhas will constitute a 15 member Forest Rights Committee as per the Forest Rights Act 2006;
That the said Forest Rights Committee shall identify, demarcate and publicly declare the hamlet/village 'Community Forest Resource' and notify them;
That the said Gram Sabhas will protect, conserve and manage the 'Community Forest Resource' including all its wild life; and
That the Forest Department will be required to act henceforth in accordance with law and through democratic processes as required by the Forest Rights Act.
 Notification of the entire Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park as Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park Tiger Reserve (Mudumalai Tiger Reserve) vide Government of Tamilnadu, Environment and Forest (FR V Department) GO.Ms.No.50 dated 02.04.2007, followed by notification of the entire 321 sq kms as Critical Tiger habitat or Core of the Tiger Reserve vide Environment and Forests (FR.5) G.O. Ms.No.145 dated 28.12.2007 and notified in the Tamilnadu Government Gazette No.363 dated 31 December 2007 under the Wild Life Protection Act as amended in 2006.
The rights of the people are defined in Chapter II Section 3 (1) and (2) of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act) 2006 notified in the Government of India, Extra Ordinary Gazette dated 2.1.2007. The Government of India have also notified the "Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules, 2007" and published in the Extra Ordinary Gazette of Government of India dated 1.1.2008. The Government of Tamil Nadu has also constituted the State Level Monitoring Committee as stipulated under Rule 9 of the "Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules 2007". [G.O.(Ms)No. 19 Dated:19.2.2008 of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare (TD2) Department].
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