ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Turning the Tide in Forest Rights?

Evaluating the arguments and the rationale behind an order of the Gauhati High Court, this article points out that much of it goes against the spirit of the Forest Rights Act, which sees a role for forest-dwelling communities in wildlife conservation.

On 19 September 2016, two persons in a peaceful demonstration were killed in police firing in Banderdubi, a village near the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam. This happened while the villagers were being evicted from their homes, following a Gauhati High Court order on 9 October 2015. The police used force against a peaceful demonstration by the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and the All Assam Minority Students’ Union against the eviction. The protestors demanded resettlement and adequate compensation for the villagers—mainly Muslims of East Bengal origin—who had been residing in the village for more than half a century. The evicted villagers claimed that theirs were revenue villages and that they had voters’ identity cards and ration cards as proof of residence. It is important to note that they were not opposed to the eviction but only wanted the government to give them proper compensation and rehabilitation. The state government did not heed their plea, and 198 families from Banderdubi village, 160 from Deochur Chang, and 12 from Palkhowa were evicted. The court also rejected their claim of grazing rights in the KNP, terming it as a “licence” that could be cancelled.

How did the high court reach a judgment ordering the eviction of people from the revenue villages? What was the rationale behind rejecting their right to forest produce (including grazing their cattle in the park)? How did the court analyse the role of the different provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in this case? Is there a connection between this decision and its ruthless implementation and the rights of forest-dwelling communities in other protected areas (PAs, such as national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves)? This article aims to evaluate the arguments and the rationale behind the high court order and its effect on the long-running debate on wildlife conservation and the role of local communities in it.

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Updated On : 11th Jan, 2017

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