Move to protect forests is suspect in tribal eyes
Apratim Mukarji
(New Delhi, November 26)

THE SURREPTITIOUS move to transfer tribal lands to non-tribals, reported in The Hindustan Times on November 24, 2000, is being followed up by a Central Government decision to set up a paramilitary force to protect forests.

A feeling is growing in tribal areas that the proposed paramilitary force will be used to prevent any popular movement against the move to open up non-transferable tribal lands to multinational corporations, like the Australian Rio Tinto, keen to exploit mineral deposits in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere in India.

Central government has informed the Supreme Court that in consultation with the state governments, it proposes to set up a paramilitary force to protect forests, as giving sophisticated arms to forest guards would not serve the purpose.

The information about setting up a paramilitary force to "protect forests" is intriguing because the context in which it was made available to the Supreme Court was quite different.

A petition filed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (India) had charged the Central government with doing precious little for the settlement of the rights of the people inhabiting sanctuaries and national parks in contravention of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Two million tribals are immediately affected by the tardiness in settling their rights.

Supreme Court has also been informed that while Rs 600 crore are required for the purpose of settling the rights of the tribals to be removed from 520 sanctuaries and national parks, a "meagre" Rs 45 crore has been sanctioned.

The Central Government is moving fast to bring about amendments to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 (amended in 1984 and later too) and the Fifth Schedule, which forbids the transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals.

But tribals in Andhra Pradesh and other States feel that the special paramilitary force will be actually used to ensure law and order so that land transfers take place without a hitch after the amendments.

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