Sunday, July 31, 2011

Melghat, its people and the Forest Rights Act

In the heart of Vidharbha as one goes towards the North of Amravati, a mesmerizing sight captivates the eye. Beauty reflects in the eye of the beholder, that of gushing rivers and dense, lush green forest, of narrow roads and steep terrain. The woods are filled with the cackling of birds and insects crawling on the muddy earth. The wild animals tread the land and it is their home. Melghat is undoubtedly a Nature lover’s paradise, his place to be.

As much as this is true, an ugly reality grimaces the face of those dwelling in this region. Beyond the beauty lie the troubles of a race that walks in the darkness of illiteracy, one that is exploited on a daily basis, one which cannot bask in the glory of democracy and one who just wants to keep its own land. The parliament keeps making several laws and the judiciary keeps implementing them, but it’s only when you tread with your own feet to these forsaken lands that you get an insight of the truth.

A conversation with the Sarpanch of Makhla which is a revenue village revealed that the Government is willingly to offer Rs.10 Lakh per family, but it is insufficient to survive and on a whole the resettlement is difficult. The Forest officials do not come to the village when the Gram Sabha is convened and always delay it. Further, they do not go into the intricacies of the claim, but deal with the issue superficially. A girl called Savitri stated that she and her family will be happy with the 10 Lakhs but had no clue of where they would be resettled and when. She also had no idea when the fund would be provided or to be more accurate would it be provided. Chandan Raju Yevle, President of Joint Forest Management Committee of Ghatang village disclosed that the Forest Department and the Committee together were doing a good job in the Ghatang region. He did agree to the fact that the act was not being properly implemented and many people were deprived of their rights. He also mentioned that few months back some men in the Bhawai village had a fight with the officials regarding their right of ownership over the forest land and were imprisoned. Moving further to Bhawai, people there were not willing to share their problems and became aggressive. They stated that nothing was wrong in their village and that no person from any other village had the right to comment on the issues related to their village. The Tribal Welfare Department which is obliged to make the Tribal people aware of their rights has not done any work so far.

For the villagers to attain their rights they need to solve at least the issues which they can deal with. The educated need to provide a better leadership and need to voice the people’s opinion in the Panchayat. Melghat should fight this issue as a whole and not as separate villages in order to bring about the desired change. NGO’s need to intervene on a larger basis to spread awareness, literacy and education among the people. There is an immediate and immense need to end the communication gap or at least some steps should be taken in the same direction. The power equation is still unbalanced due to the loopholes in the act. The act still needs to be modified and simplified for the advantage of the villagers.

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