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ACHR Press Release
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ACHR Index: PR/IND/02/05/05
06 May 2005

Don’t penalise the tribals - Young MPs urged

New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today urged the Tigers and Wilderness Watch formed by young Members of Parliament not to penalise the tribals by blocking the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 and to examine the role of timber mafia for commercial exploitation of forest and the organized criminal gangs and poachers who trade in prohibited animal articles.

In October 2003, custom officers in the Tibet intercepted a record haul of 31 tiger skins and 581 leopard skins being taken to Lhasa. At the Kaziranga National Park, some 25-50 animals killed each year by the poachers.

“Blaming the tribals for reduction of tigers in Sariska and elsewhere is akin to blaming the victims of trafficking and not the organized criminal groups who force hundreds of thousands of women across the world into contemporary forms of slavery” – stated Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR.

The Scheduled Tribes constituted about 8.1 percent of the total population of the country according to 1991 census but they also constituted 55.16% of total displaced people which indicates victimization of the tribals. Many of the tribals have been displaced for creation of national parks. The failure to provide rehabilitation to the displaced tribals consistent with constitutional provisions such as "land for land" as provided in the 5th and 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India has created further pressure on forest.

Thousands of tribals are arrested each year for collecting minor forest produce while timber mafia operates with virtual impunity. On 11 October 2004, Orissa government directed the Forest Department to withdraw all 11,424 minor cases involving forest produce of less than Rs 100. The recognition of the forest rights will reduce the mis-use of powers by the forest officials.

ACHR urged that the Draft Forest Bill does not provide blanket access to the forest as the deadline for the recognition and vesting of forest rights to forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes has been set before 25 October 1980. Most of these tribal villages are revenue villages and the State governments have already been making attempts to recognize them as such.

“The Draft Bill strikes a fine balance of rights vis a vis duty as it does not only entrusts the forest right holders for prevention of activities that adversely affect wild life, forest, bio-diversity but also provides for penalties including permanent termination of rights against the offenders.” stated Mr Chakma.

Ends/


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