Indian govt. halts plan of using force against indigenous people after protests


After a nationwide protest in India, the government has dropped its plans to give forest officials the right to use force against indigenous people and open up more land for commercial plantations.

The amendments were proposed in March, triggering protests in several parts of the country in the months following. Another protest is planned for November 17. Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government was committed to giving more rights to indigenous people and forest dwellers.

“Therefore we are completely withdrawing the so-called draft, so there should not be a doubt in anybody’s mind that this government is taking away the rights of tribals,” he told reporters late on Friday in New Delhi.

The withdrawal was “acknowledgment that there were serious objections to the draft”, said Kanchi Kohli, a researcher at think tank Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

India’s 104 million tribal people – also known as Adivasis, or “original inhabitants” – make up less than 10 percent of the country’s population and are among its most impoverished.

Millions of indigenous people are already at risk of being removed from forests after their land claims were rejected under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), a law enacted by the previous government that is being challenged in the top court.

The FRA, passed in 2006, aimed to improve their lives by recognising the right of at least 150 million people to inhabit and live off about 40 million hectares of forest land.

But states have been slow to implement the law, and more than half the claims were rejected, often on flimsy grounds, indigenous activists have said.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court stayed its ruling that ordered the eviction of millions of forest dwellers whose land claims were rejected by states.

A nationwide protest against forest rights violations planned for November 17 would go ahead, said advocacy group Campaign for Survival and Dignity.

The next hearing in the case against FRA is set for November 26. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)