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New Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) Adivasis from across India Tuesday demanded immediate implementation of forest rights to ameliorate the living conditions of tribal communities in the country.
"It is time for tribals to have access to and control over their own forests and natural resources. And this can happen only if the PESA and the Forest Rights Acts are implemented in their true spirit," Bratindi Jena, an activist from ActionAid India told IANS here.
The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) are acts promulgated by the union government specifically for the benefit of tribals.
Jena was among more than 150 representatives from 27 civil society organisations who had gathered at Jantar Mantar here at a meet organised by AJAM (Adivasi Janjati Adhikar Manch) to demand and discuss proper implementation of forest rights and to ask parliament to take a quick action in favour of them.
The AJAM was formed in 2006 with a motive to bring all tribals and indigenous people's grievances and issues to a common platform and raise them at the national level.
The issues discussed at the meet included settlement of community forest rights, stopping monopoly businesses of NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Produce), non-conversion of forests into non-forest activities, the power of the gram sabha to protect, manage and use natural resources of the forest under PESA and stopping violence against tribals.
"These people do not have any idea about urban life. They do not know how to and where to voice their problems. People have come from West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and many other states just to relate the grief which they are facing as there is no one to help them or guide them," Menuka, a financier of ActionAid (Bhubaneshwar) told IANS.
"They want the government to listen to them, not ignore them," Menuka said.
Many delegates at the meet expressed concern about the growing encroachment of tribal forested lands by powerful international firms.
"We live in the Niyamgiri Hills (Odisha). We are dependent on the forests for our food and livelihood. These forests are also home to unique flora and fauna. We will not allow destruction of this bio-diversity by bringing multi-national mining companies. We will not concede even an inch of our lands," vowed Jairam Bariha, a tribal from Odisha.
The Niyamgiri Hills, located in Odisha's Kalahandi district are home to the Dongria Kondh tribals.
The hills have been at the centre of a controversy ever since British mining giant Vedanta expressed an interest to mine the hills for bauxite. On a visit to the area in 2010, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had spoken against Vedanta's plan to mine the hills.
"It is not only a meeting for them. It is about their right to live freely. If Posco comes to Odisha, where will the people go and what will happen to their land? How will they earn without any land? And how will they own any assets? They want to live life on their own terms, not under the dictatorship of other authorities," Jena told IANS.
Jena was referring to the controversy surrounding Korean conglomerate Posco's planned acquisition of land at Jagatsinghpur in Odisha in order to build a steel plant.