16 July 2021

PBKMS statement on illegal eviction of forest dwellers and the fascist behaviour of the Khandwa Forest Administration in Madhya Pradesh

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), condemns the illegal eviction of traditional forest dwellers from their lands inherited through customary rights in direct violation of the provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. The forest department in utter disregard for the legal safeguards enjoyed by the community residing in Jamniya village (Khadwa District, Madhya Pradesh) encroached upon their lands and destroyed their shelters, standing crops and cattle. The Khadwa district administration has also not taken any measures to address the periodic harassment meted out to the forest-dwelling communities by the forest administration despite existing legal provisions acknowledging their customary rights over forest resources.

Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), the leading tribal and dalit rights collective intervened and made attempts to protect the interests of the families who were facing the wrath of the forest administration. The District Forest Officer did not acknowledge that the interests of the concerned community are protected by the law of the land till the completion of the verification of their claims over forest lands as per the provisions of the FRA, 2006. The fact that the Madhya Pradesh High Court had passed a stay order in an ongoing petition filed by the members of forest-dwelling communities in Jamniya claiming individual and community forest rights, too was disregarded. The Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has also passed an order restraining the state from evicting any individual during the present pandemic situation which was clearly violated as well. Hence in complete defiance of the legal protection accorded to the tribal community, the forest department not only trespassed on their property with criminal intention but also took a twelve year old girl named Puja and her parents along with other members of the community into their custody for protesting against their illegal acts.

The activists of JADS along with the community leaders vehemently protested against the high-handedness of the forest officials and tried to secure the release of the detained persons. Much to the horror of the protestors, the forest officials decided to target the activists of JADS and forcefully took away Nitin bhai, Ramesh bhai and Ratan bhai into their custody. The forest department has no legal right to enforce detentions and has acted in complete violation of the constitutional provisions in detaining the three activists and confining them to the room of the Forest Ranger without any access to legal help. A non-responsive administration finally relented on witnessing a midnight ‘sit-in’ protest led by adivasi women in front of the office of the Superintendent of Police, Khandwa. The 8 people from the community who had been illegally confined in the forest ranger’s office along with Nitin bhai, Ramesh bhai and Mahesh bhai then were released today. The forest administration is yet to hand over the phones of the three activists of JADS and threatened to charge Nitin bhai with false allegations under the Wildlife Act, having non-bailable provisions. Only for standing up to the might of the forest administration in a district of Independent India displaying colonial disdain towards ‘adivasis’ and traditional forest dwellers, a people’s association has to face such systemic harassment. Shame on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan led Madhya Pradesh Government!

45 adivasi families have been looted of their meagre belongings with their homestead lands resembling a battlefield marked by the destruction of standing crops and killing of farm animals. A six year old boy named Mahendra is still missing after the trespassing of the forest department and he has not been traced till the time of circulation of this note.

We demand strict action against the erring officials who have violated even the principles of natural justice with impunity, witnessed in the conduct of only outlawed groups and associations. We also demand a public apology from the office of Hon’ble Minister in charge of Forests, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh and adequate compensation to the families whose shelters, standing crops and cattle have been destroyed. The district administration should assure the community of protection against harassment and illegal trespass of forest officials on their lands and immediate compliance with the provisions of the FRA, 2006.

PBKMS stands in complete solidarity with the activists of JADS and the community of forest dwellers who have displayed tremendous courage and determination to challenge the hegemonic grip of the district forest administration over natural resources. We completely endorse the following demands put forward by JADS and urge upon the state government of Madhya Pradesh to assure us of immediate action:

    • All charges against adivasis and activists must be dropped.
    • Police must immediately trace the missing child and hand him over to his parents. 
    • Confiscated phones of all persons must be immediately returned. 
    • The 45 families who have faced immense loss of food grain, crop and livestock must be fully and immediately compensated by Madhya Pradesh Govt