NBA Press Release
  24 September 2002
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Thousands Of Tribals in Narmada Valley and Satpura Ranges Asser Right Over Land: Impressive March for Right to Life

62, Mahatma Gandhi Road,
Badwani,
Madhya Pradesh - 451551
Tel: 07290-22464
Email: badwani@narmada.org

An impressive four day long foot-march (padyatra) by about 4000 tribal men and women in the Narmada valley from September 13 to 17, asserted the right over the land and the right to proper rehabilitation for for the tribal people in the Satpura ranges in the Narmada valley.

Thousands of tribals from the villages on the banks of Narmada (Manibeli Bhadal stretch), affected by the infamous Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and also from villages outside the submergence zone, in Toranmal and Dhadgaon blocks participated in the march. Large meetings and rallies took place in major villages in the area through which the march passed like Navagam, Katri, Bijri and Lengapani. Senior activists including Keshav Vasave, Bulya Daya, Tukaram, Harilal, Dedlibai Vasave and Medha Patkar addressed the meetings.

Two mammoth rallies were organised in Ranipur and Dhadgaon following which talks were held with the Conservator and Deputy Conservator of Forests. The Narmada Bachao Andolan delegation focused on the legal violations due to the recent orders of the forest department regarding the eviction of the tribals from the forest land and about the environmental impact of evicted encroachers moving into newer forest land for survival. On September 14, an open letter was faxed to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra raising these issues. On September 15, September a statement was issued condemning the violation of the Supreme Court order. On September 17, The Maharashtra government issued orders, staying the removal of encroachments until further notice. From September 13 to 17, thousands of adivasis in the Satpura ranges rose against the crass injustice regarding the land rights of tribals, like the adivasis in various parts of the country raised their voice jointly in protest against the recent decision of the state and central governments to remove all 'encroachers' from forest areas all over the country. The government is said to have initiated this move based on a judgement given by the Supreme Court in 2001 to remove encroachments from forest areas. But people's organizations and adivasi rights groups across the country have stiffly opposed this move by citing another order passed by the court way back in 1985, making it imperative on the part of the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to appoint district level committees to look into the cases of old encroachments (prior to 1978) and take steps to regularize them.

In and around Narmada valley in Maharashtra, that is, in the Satpura range, there are 73 forest and revenue villages in the two tehsils (Akkalkua and Akrani) of Nandurbar district. There are large numbers of adivasis who have been cultivating on forest lands for many generations. But none of them have been given any title for the land which they are cultivating and are therefore victims of corruption by government officials from all departments.

In a dharna and indefinite fast by seven activists in Mumbai, in September 2001, the NBA had raised the issue of the land rights of the tribals of 73 forests villages in Nandurbar district, who have been cultivating on these forest land for decades, apart from the issue of illegal submergence and forcible displacement. Incidentally, many of these forest villages are going to be submerged due to the SSP. People living in these villages are going to be the losers as without land rights they are entitled to not two but one hectare of land in resettlement. Also because they don't have any legal rights over their present land, it is being usurped by the forest department for compensatory afforestation related to SSP.

Maharashtra government conceded the demands of the people and had appointed a committee to look into the claims of forest land encroachers. As a result, 44000 adivasi families in Nandurbar district registered their claims before the committee for regularization and granting of land titles. Also Maharashtra government submitted an affidavit taking a non adversarial stand regarding the land rights in the related case in the Mumbai High Court , agreeing to settle the claims of encroachments on 15000 hectares of cultivated land in 73 forest villages which they would convert into revenue areas. After the recent rally in Dhadgaon on September 17, at the conclusion of the march, the Conservator of Forests ordered an immediate stoppage to all removal of crops of the 'encroached' lands. It was decided to review the Joint Forest Management work taking place in one of the sites. A few positive plans were also discussed, thereafter a few villages would be selected for the joint planning regarding land, water and forest by the people, NBA and the government officials.

However, much remains to be done to stop state repression and eviction. There is a need to stop the eviction and encroachment on people's land, forest and river and also on their entire life and livelihood by the state. The alternative plan would require the recognition of people's rights, the choice of appropriate technology and democratic process to use the natural resources in an optimal and sustainable way. It will pave the way for 'Hamare gaon mei hamara raj' ( our rule in our village).

Shobha Wagh
Jayantilal
Yogini Khanolkar
Kamlesh