On March 28th, the National Tiger Conservation Authority passed a grossly illegal order (copy here) in which they directed all states to not recognise any rights under the Forest Rights Act in so-called “critical tiger habitats.”
This will is a criminal offence against the rights of over four lakh tribals and forest dwellers.
This order flies in the face of both the Wild Life Act and the Forest Rights Act, both of which explicitly require that rights must be recognised in critical tiger and wildlife habitats (see sections 38V(5) and 4(2)(a) of the Wild Life Act and the FRA respectively). The NTCA further had no jurisdiction to issue such a letter, which is a criminal offence under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and the FRA. In a detailed letter to the Prime Minister, Com. Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) has explained these and other illegalities and said that the order constitutes “utter contempt for the law.”
From start to finish, India’s tiger reserves have been plagued by illegalities. Even prior to the passage of the FRA, in 2005 the Tiger Task Force condemned forest authorities for “selective application of the law”, which had led to what it called “truly a war within, exploding inside reserves and taking everything else in its wake.” In 2006, the law was amended to require scientific evidence and a public process before deciding which areas are truly critical for tigers. But in 2007, in a mockery of the law, the Centre simply notified all of India’s tiger reserves as “critical tiger habitats” without bothering with any scientific process at all (see this note for more information).
Now this order comes as a further attack on people’s rights. On the ground, forest officials have already begun to use this order to threaten and harass forest dwellers. In tiger reserves where rights were already recognised – such as in Simlipal in Odisha – forest officials have even demanded that recognised rights should be canceled. This would be a double crime and a further atrocity.
To oppose this criminal order, the Campaign will be mobilising protests and village level meetings, where whole villages will send protest statements to the government. These will take place across the country in the next month. We also understand that other opposition parties are likely to take the issue up, and that many other democratic groups will be mobilising against it.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Ph: 9873657844, www.forestrightsact.com