Forest Rights and Development

30. Struggles against land acquisition and mining projects and for forest rights have emerged as a key area of militant mass movement in India today, one that has thrown up a tough challenge to the use of state power to expropriate natural resources in the interests of big capital, indigenous and foreign.

31. While supporting these struggles against accumulation of capital by dispossession of the labouring people, we demand that all natural resources must be brought under democratic, collective control. We therefore propose the following basic principles as the foundation for all laws relating to forests, land and minerals:

a. All community and individual rights under the Forest Rights Act must be recognised and respected. Similar procedures should be put in place to recognise individual and community rights over revenue lands.

b. The powers of the gram sabha under Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) must be respected. All forest diversion in violation of the FRA and done without the consent of gram sabhas must be immediately stopped. State governments – like those in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh – which have framed Rules contrary to PESA must be made to withdraw them. All tribal areas should be brought under the Fifth or Sixth Schedules.

32. Samata, a group working in the Scheduled Tribes areas of Andhra Pradesh, filed a case against the state government for leasing out tribal lands to private mining companies in such areas. The SLP filed in the Supreme Court led to a historic judgment in July 1997 by a three judge-bench. Known popularly as the Samata judgment, it nullified all mining leases granted by the State government in the Scheduled areas and asked it to stop all mining operations. Only the State Mineral Development Corporation or a cooperative of the tribal people, it ruled, could take up mining activity and that too in compliance with the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. It also recognised the Constitution (73rd) Amendment and the PESA, under which gramsabhas are competent to preserve and safeguard community resources, and reiterated the right of self-governance of adivasis. This judgment must be followed in letter and spirit in all relevant cases for safeguarding the lives and livelihood of the marginalized people.

a. Land use plans should be made in a democratic process, involving local elected bodies.

b. All projects that involve acquisition of land or expropriation of natural resources must require the informed consent of the gram sabhas of the affected villages, all the more so in tribal and
forest areas.

c. Any change in land use above the land ceiling should be treated as an acquisition and therefore subjected to requirements for consent of the community and provisions for rehabilitation.

d. State subsidies and projects should be awarded to local people for running a project on a cooperative basis or utilising the natural resources collectively. Subsidies and tax incentives for corporate expropriation of resources should be halted. In place of forced acquisition, land and other resources needed for mining and industries may be leased from local communities through democratic consultations.

e. All pro-corporate legislations like the SEZ Act 2005 and the present Land Acquisition Bill must be strongly opposed. Where large projects are voluntarily agreed to by communities, ownership of share equity in the project should be provided to the community as per the Bhuria Committee recommendations of 1996; there should also be provision of complete rehabilitation in tribal areas with land for land and land to landless people. Further, a white paper should be brought out by the government about the total displacement, rehabilitation and resource expropriation that has taken place since independence. Further expropriation for large projects should be halted until this is completed.