Adivasis [forest-dwelling indigenous people] in Dhule district, Maharashtra, are protesting the diversion of forest land for wind power projects. About 340 hectares of forest land has been diverted for wind energy projects in Sakri taluka of Dhule district, promoted by Suzlon Energy Limited.
With the passing of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006, adivasis in Dhule as in other parts of the country were hopeful that the land they were tilling for years would be regularised in their names. In 1982, the first petition on regularising forest land in the name of adivasis was filed from Dhule by Karan Singh Kokani in the Supreme Court. Today Karan Singh, secretary of the Satyashodhak Gramin Kashtakari Sabha, says instead of giving adivasis the land, the government has allotted it to a private company.
The Sabha has been campaigning for the rights of adivasis for the last 40 years and has mobilised widespread protests against the present diversion of forest land. On February 14, the Sabha took out a morcha in Sakri taluka where the land is located and took over the office of the tehsildar till late night. Kishore Dhamale of the Sabha said that after protests by the organisation, the forest department stayed the construction of 15 wind turbines in February as they were on disputed land that was being cultivated by the adivasis.
In November 2005, the Maharashtra revenue and forests department had recommended the diversion of 127.94 hectares of forest land for the construction of wind power projects. This envisaged the installation of 100 wind turbines of 1.25 MW each in Dhule district. The government contended that there was availability of non-forest land for compensatory afforestation, and after the project was completed, about 6,000 skilled mandays and 28,000 unskilled mandays would be generated. The project would address the overall power shortage in the district. The land in question was also not part of any protected area.
The State government also sought the approval of another 212.52 hectares of forest land for constructing a 225 MW wind power project in favour of Suzlon energy limited. Dhule forest department sources said the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) approved the diversion of forest land last year. It later set some conditions that included minimum tree felling, no danger to flora and fauna. The Ministry even suggested that medicinal plants be grown in the area under the wind power projects. The land has been given on a 30-year lease to the company. While the Dhule forest department contends that very little of the diverted land is under “encroachment,” Mr. Dhamale said that this was not the issue.
When the Act passed last year gives rights to forest dwellers, why does the government give preference to a private company, he asked. He also said hundreds of trees were being felled to install the wind turbines. The forest department has denied this.
The cut off date for regularising the land according to the Act is December 13, 2005. However, the rules under the Act are yet to be framed and will take some time. Till then, Mr. Dhamale said, this diversion should not have happened.
“We have been demanding a survey of forest land in the district so that the picture becomes clear about the number of `encroachments’,” said Mr. Dhamale. When the government did not agree, the Sabha decided to conduct its own survey in the affected villages. “In the first village we found markings on a field belonging to a local adivasi. We also learnt five windmills were proposed on his land,” he said. Some of the villages over which the 212 hectares is spread, Valvhe, Pangan, Burudkhe and Lagadwad have passed resolutions against the wind power project.
During the survey Mr. Dhamale alleged that the forest department attacked their vehicle and also prevented them from meeting the district collector, Bhaskar Munde. They managed to meet him on February 26 after which he agreed to set up a five-member committee in each village to survey the disputed land.
The committee comprises a member of the Sabha, two senior citizens and others who will undertake the surveys from April 2 onwards and make a list of those who are cultivating forest land. This survey will be conducted in Jamde, Valvhe, Pangan, Petle, Panchmouli, Mogarpada, Pinjharkjhadi, Ladagwad, Raikot, Davynapada and several other hamlets.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dhamale and five others have been arrested on charges of attacking the forest department.
By Meena Menon
18 March 2007
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