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Encroachment on forest land to be verified; Minister stays construction of wind towers  

MUMBAI: The Adivasis’ struggle for land rights has received a boost after Maharashtra Forest Minister Babanrao Pachpute ordered that the survey of “encroached” forest land be completed in Sakhri taluk of Dhule district.

People there have been protesting against diversion of forest land for wind energy projects.

Kishore Dhamale of the Satyashodhak Grameen Kashtakari Sabha, who has been spearheading the forest communities’ struggle for land, told The Hindu that the Minister also stayed construction of wind towers on forest land. Ever s ince two large tracts of forest land were leased to Suzlon Energy Limited some time ago, the Adivasis have been protesting that their rights are ignored. In January, 127.94 hectares in the villages of Vitave, Vatve, Pangan, Panchmauli and Raikot was leased by the Forest Department.

Another 212 hectares has also been leased to the company for wind energy projects.

The new Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act passed in December 2006 gives rights to those who had been cultivating forest land till December, 2005.

The rules of the Act are yet to come into force but governments in the country have already issued notifications changing the date of regularisation of “encroachments.”

In Maharashtra, the Revenue and Forest departments issued a government resolution (GR) on April 23, 2007 saying the cut-off date was October 25, 1980. Various organisations protested this GR and last week the government agreed to withdraw it.

In June, Suzlon, in a letter to the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Dhule, said that in the event that some of the land falling within the leased tract is legally allotted to the Adivasis for cultivation, both wind mills on the leased land and the Adivasis could “coexist.” The Activists have taken exception to such proposals, saying they must first be given rights to the forest land.

The Dhule Forest Department has acknowledged that the land leased to the company does have “encroachment” in places.

Earlier in May, the district administration, after an agitation, did agree to set up local committees to verify the rights of the Adivasis on the leased land. A process was set in motion on May 12 and in 1,600 cases enquiries were conducted, Mr. Dhamale said. However this exercise was stopped on May 22. Now the Minister has said the remaining cases of “encroachment” must be verified by September 11. There should be 300-450 cases in which enquiry remained to be held, Mr. Dhamale said.

While the new Act was passed to redress a historical injustice, the Maharashtra government, despite having so many laws and notifications to give the Adivasis their rights over forest land, has chosen to favour companies, says Anand Teltumbde, writer and activist, who was part of a fact-finding team which recently visited Dhule to examine repression of the protestors.

The team, on behalf of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), also investigated lathi charge at Pangan and Mograpada, 70 km from Dhule, where the police beat up villagers and arrested 18 persons.

It was at Mograpada that a huge pit was dug up for a wind tower, drawing resistance by the villagers.

There have been repeated agitations for granting land rights to the Adivasis first before land is leased to companies.

As a result, notices have been issued to Mr. Dhamale and two others seeking their externment from the district.

The CPDR report also said large scale deforestation was taking place in the area.

By Meena Menon

The Hindu

2 September 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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