Monday, November 30, 2009

How forest department has cheated Goa's tribal people

The below are depositions before the People's Tribunal headed by Justice Hosbet Suresh, a retired judge of Bombay High Court held on May 30-31 2009 in Panaji. It was organized by Gawda, Kunbi. Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED).

Shabu Kusado Gaonkar, Yeda, Khotigao, Canacona:

Living in Khotigao for many generations and using forest land for grazing purpose. Khotigao forest areas were declared as Wildlife sanctuary in 1968. For past few years farmers cattles are prevented for grazing into the forest lands. Ploughing for cultivation purpose in their locality is also objected to by forest department. Nearly 500 familes are facing the tyranny of the forest department. In order to prevent the cattle from entering the forest for grazing purpose forest department has dug trenches and installed metal gate near Nadke village in Canacona taluka. Forest department also involved in verbal frightening and physically beating the local tribal people and very often has even confiscated their agricultural implements such as “Koito”. “Koito” is a kind of a chopper that tribal people carry with them while they petrol their plantations in the forest from being destroyed by wild animals. Forest department however accuse them of hunting and confiscate their “Koito” and also beat up people very often. Due to fear of the Forest officers tribal people do not file police cases against forest officers. The Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of forest rights) Act, 2006

is not implemented in Goa as hamlet level gram Sabhas are yet to be conducted as per the requirement of the “Forest Act”. Forest department never attends regular Gram Sabhas of the Panchayat of revenue village of Khotigao.

People have cultivated cashew tree, mango trees, coconut trees etc for past many generations in Khotigoa village. Forest is grazing ground for cattle for many generations. Forest officials are preventing the tribal people from plating cashew trees in the land traditionally occupied by tribals themselves. Forest department has put up a gate and villagers are prevented from entering the forest. As a result they are not able to get firewood from forest by Forest department officials from Canacona taluka. This is after the Forest has been declared as Sanctuary. They are not aware if their cultivation lands are included within the jurisdictions of the Khotigao Wildlife Sanctuary: they are not served any notice to intimate if that is so by Forest department. Adivasis are entirely dependent upon the cultivation in forest lands for their livelihood sustenance. Adivasi people are ignorant whether Forest Rights Committee is constituted in the village. On day one of the tribunal on 30th May 2009 when this matter came up for hearing no representative from Forest department was present in spite of invitation from the organisers namely Gawda Kunbi Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED).

Dhowlo Babu Velip, Avali, Khotigao, Cancaona, Goa:

Forest Department is cutting down peoples’ grown up cashew plantations and planting wild trees. There is harassment from Forest department officials in the form of beating up of the villagers and threats to arrest and imprison. The land documents in possession of tribal people is the old Portuguese document known as ‘Matriz’. This document is not recognised in the government offices as authentic land document. They are having valid extraction licence as well as distillation licence from State excise department for the past years. Distillation has been going on for the past 40 years. Regarding harassment by Forest department villagers has filed complaints 50 times. Complaints of beating up to collector led to filing up of more cases against people. False cases were filed against nine people and two people were beaten up. The people got scarred and stopped complaining. People are falsely accused of hunting wild animals while tribal people guard their cultivated crops on forest land.

Sada Sangodkar, Murmunne, Sattari:

Traditionally tribal people inhabited forest lands in various parts of Goa and survived on “Kumeri Cultivation”. Governments has recorded itself as owner in land record with forest department as occupant in land titles while some tribal people are registered as “encroachers” after 1971 survey. Many tribal people are not recorded at all in any capacity. Portuguese has granted land titles to tribal people. Some of these type of titles were called ‘Alviera’, ‘Provedoria’ and ‘Cotto’. These titles were not recognised by State in Liberated Goa. This has caused injustice to the Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Community and are suffering at behest of Forest department.

Vasu Laxman Gawde, Nanuz, Usgao, Ponda:

Tribal people are cultivating for many generation in Forest areas and even has legal title called “Sanad” issued by Collector. But in spite of this Forest department is conducting auctions of cashew plantations. Since collector has issued ‘sanad’ as land title. Forest department must stop auctioning of cashew plantations.

Baju Jano Suzaro, Mollem:

His family has been cultivating in forest land since his forefather. The type of cultivations includes Cashew, Jackfruit, Mango, Paddy, Vegetable, Ragi etc. Though they were told that this land is theirs by politicians way back in 1972 still their names are not included in form I & XIV form in spite of his application to this effect. His family stays in a hut and is not electrified. Due to high fees involved he has not taken to route to courts. This case is of Kumeri Cultivation that needs legal recognition of their rights. Forest department is constantly harassing him; not allowing electricity connection, and water connection. 25 houses of Dhangars are affected with this situation.

Kushali Gaonkar, Konir, Rivona:

The village crematorium is shown as property of forest department. The villagers continue to pay taxes of this crematorium located in Survey nos 121/1&2 and 109/1&2. The records of existence of this crematorium exist in Modi language in the name of Bhurco Gaoncar of 1988.

Raghunath Jalmi, Keri, Ponda:

Nearly 35,000 square meters of land that tribal in Keri Ponda use as grazing land is sought to be converted for real estate by landlord Vishwemba Sinai. Villagers has written letter to the local authorities protesting this proposal. Tribal people were earlier used to cultivate Morod form of agriculture on these plain lands. Now forest department has taken over the land and began planting acacia trees.

Milind Karkhanis, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Goa:

Settlement of Rights have not taken place in Goa even though it is required under the Forest Rights Act 2006. Goa Government has not yet constituted committee for the purpose of Critical Wildlife Habitat. Critical Habitat also required following procedure of Settlement of Rights. Social Welfare Department has been declared as Nodal Agency to implement Forest Act and Director of Social Welfare has been declared as Nodal Officer for this purpose. State level Committee, Sub-Divisional Committees are yet to be constituted. According to various letters of Ministry of Environment and Forest for past four years ‘no claimant be displaced until and unless their rights are inquired into’, ‘their habitat, cultivation practices, grazing lands etc are must not be disturbed. And according to Forest Act 2006, ‘cultivation, grazing, habitat is allowed even inside wildlife sanctuaries.’ Forest Act 2006 supersedes all other existing Acts. And ‘Forest officials violating Forest Rights Act 2006 is constitutes an offence and officers are liable to be punished with fine of Rs.2000/-. Emphasis on Critical Wildlife Habitat does not rule out the protection of People’s rights living and cultivating inside Forest areas. No tree cutting is allowed in “Private Forest” but it is allowed in “Government Forest”.

Jason Keith Fernandes: The focus of the Forest Department is on critical wildlife habitats and does not take care of People’s rights inside the forest.

Ramesh Gauns intervening in the discussion observed that more Forest areas needs to be identified or they will go under mining projects. He further pointed out that 570 square kilometers of land in Sanguem taluka is under forest cover. In this taluka of Snguem there are 295 mining leases. Forest department has to prepare preliminary feasibility report about what mining leases when activated will do to Forest cover. Milind Karkhanis intervening in the discussion said that this has to be policy decision of the government.

Advocate John Fernandes questioned as to why Forest department remains absent during the Public Hearing conducted it the state of Goa to start opencast mining even where the land is classified forest land? Sandand Gaonkar substantiated this by pointing out that during the recent Public Hearing for mining in Sattari taluka by Damodar Mangalji, Garco and Timblo mining companies in classified Forest none from Forest department was present. Advocate Fernandes pointed out that Forest land has been demarcated as active mining lease under survey number 19/1 of Cavrem, Quepem in Regional Plan 2021 (RP-2021). He further said that Forest department must study RP-2021.

Purso Kushta Gaonkar and Vithoba Pauto Gaonkar, Colamb, Sanguem:

Around 30 years ago planted cashew trees inside the forest in land surveyed under survey no.12 of Colomb village of Sanguem Taluka. Area of around 1 hectare is possession of Purso K Gaonkar. Forest department then planted some wild trees in this land without uprooting the Cashew trees planted by me. Forest department then inserted its name as occupant in land records. Currently there are around 100 cashew trees raised by Purso Gaonkar and 200 trees raised by Vithoba Pauto Gaonkar and they continue to harvest the same. Thier only source of income comes from Cashew harvest. Forest department often scolds them in Forest but they do not cut our cashew trees. They have families including Purso Kusto Gaonkar’s two minor children to support with one at 13 and younger at 8 in their age. Highest level of education any person in Purso’s family to get formal education is his brother who has completed XII class. They had filed application to regularize his cultivation in Forest land with the mamlatdar sometime in early 1980s but no action has been taken on this for the past over 20 years.

No comments: