A GROUP of forest rights activists from across the state have written a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, seeking his intervention against “attempt at evocation of rights of gram sabhas” as described by them.
“The FRA (Forest Rights Act) strengthens gram sabhas of Scheduled Castes and other traditional forest-dwellers. In the last few years, the state government has taken many steps to empower gram sabhas. It has enabled many gram sabhas and their federations to carry out forest-based development works and earning livelihood in villages, thereby nullifying the need to migrate. But over the past few months, due to wrong decisions made by some government officials, an attempt is being made to divest gram sabhas of power and hand them over to gram panchayats,” the letter states.
The letter also cites the recent example of sealing of bank accounts of 19 Gadchiroli gram sabhas by the collector, offer of lending working capital to a group of Amravati gram sabhas for tendu management through gram panchayats and not directly to gram sabhas and “hurdles” created by officials in delivery of benefits such as wells, compound wall, ploughing and huts to farmers in Palghar district as well as registering FIRs against them.
“We wish to request you to rein in officials trying to control constitutional status of gram sabha by treating them like NGOs. No gram sabha will accept government funds by sacrificing its rights. There should be no infringement on community forest rights of gram sabhas. It must be brought to the notice of officials concerned that they can’t twist decisions of the legislature in their own way,” the activists stated, seeking appropriate directives from the chief minister.
Activists include Satish Gugulwar, Dilip Gode, Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, Purnima Upadhyay, Pratibha Shinde, Shubhada Deshmukh, Milind Thatte, Kishore Moghe and Rupchand Dakhne.
The Indian Express had highlighted the Gadchiroli gram sabha issue recently. In Melghat region of Amravati district, a group of 45 gram sabhas had sought working capital for its tendu business from the tribal development department. But unlike in 2014, when the group received the money at gram sabha level, this time it was offered through gram panchayats, where the government has the final control. “We rejected the offer and have now gone for crowdfunding the tendu business,” Upadhyay said.