Adivasis up in arms against powers to grama sabha

via www.newindpress.com published on July 7, 2008







KOCHI: The cloud of another agitation is hovering over Kerala. Adivasis in the state are up in arms against the state government’s decision to give the grama sabha a pivotal role in the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, ignoring the ooru koottam (ruling body in a tribal settlement).

The Central Act permits the state government to implement the Forest Rights Act with a body that functions in a democratic way. The high-level panel of the senior administrative and forest officers constituted by the state government to select the implementing agency preferred the Ooru Koottam. But overruling the panel’s suggestion, the government selected the grama sabha, which was the last preference of the panel.

SC/ST Welfare Minister A K Balan said that the grama sabha had been selected because it was more democratic than the ooru koottam. But the tribal leaders argue that it is the ploy of the CPM to bring the tribals in the state into its fold.

The implementing body is so powerful that it will literally decide the destiny of the tribals. Its decision can be challenged in the divisional committee headed by the revenue divisional officer. But the divisional committee’s decision is the final and cannot be challenged even in court of law.

Under the Act, a decision can be accepted and implemented only if it is supported by one-third of the members of the grama sabha. The Adivasi leaders say that since the tribals have no two-third majority in the grama sabha anywhere in the state, the decision will be taken by the non-tribals and need not be in the interest of the tribals.

In most tribal belts, grama panchayats are ruled by the CPM. So they fear that the new Act will give further access for non-tribals into the forest which will be detrimental for the ecology of the state.

The apprehension of the ecology-conscious forest officials adds credence to their concern. “With the implementation of the Act, the role of the Forest Department in conserving the forest will diminish further. So if the Act is not implemented properly, it will lead to the total destruction of forest,” said a senior forest official.

The leaders of all leading Adivasi organisations will meet in Thiruvananthapuram next week and jointly announce the agitation being launched by them against the government’s decision to entrust the implementing activities to the grama sabha.

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