31 May 2023  |   05:07am IST

Tribals deserve their legitimate rights

The rift between the leaders of the tribal community in Goa is now clearly visible.

The discussion has been stuck between Prerna Din and Sankalp Din. It is imminent that the tribals have been divided by their leader based on affiliations. The only sigh of relief is that, at all three events held, there has been consensus on the issue of political reservations. Though the government has, on paper, admitted to the existence of tribals in the state, there is doubt over their acceptance of this reality by the government machinery in its affairs. For instance, there is no substantial provision in the budget for these tribals. Secondly, the budget provisions are not fully utilised. Though 10 percent of the budget allocation is required to be reserved for tribals, they are forced to aceept and settle for provisions of Rs 400-500 crore. There is a Tribal Welfare Department, but the old schemes aren’t properly implemented and no new schemes are being introduced.

Meanwhile, at a function held in Ponda, sanads were distributed to tribals after their forest rights were sanctioned. It was presumed that the prolonged issue of the tribal community would be resolved. It will be considered as a proof that the government has approved of the rights of Gawdas, Kunbis and Velips on the forest lands in Goa. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is disappointment among tribals regarding forest rights claims. The main objective of this law was to connect the tribals to forests and make them independent. However, there has been no success. 

It is also the government's job to promote different means of livelihood in the forest through gram sabhas, and thereby increasing government investment. There haven’t been enough efforts in this regard. Independent department has been formed for tribal welfare. The tribals have been disappointed as there are no appropriate efforts made by the department for approving the forest rights of the former. The tribal welfare department cannot distance itself claiming that it is the issue of revenue and forest departments. The situation is such that one can feel the tribal department is only to distribute grants. 

The department seems to be interested in only distributing aid, and not concerned about other issues. This itself suggests its failure. Until and unless more and more people speak for and take on the government for increasing tribals' rights, the attitude of the administration will not change. Then only the real empowerment will begin. 

It is necessary to understand that the demand of the tribals for political reservation has stuck just like the forest rights approval. The tribals have the right to political reservation, and no one can deny it to them. However, the forest rights approvals are also equally important. No one can force out the tribals. It is clearly mentioned in Section 16 of the Forest Rights Act that gram sabhas must develop forests, create employment opportunities based on it, and create means to livelihood, and the government must assist in all these efforts. It is the duty of the gram sabhas to plan village development, manage the forests, and formulate a strategy. It is the duty of the government administration to respond and support the call of the gram sabha. The apathy at this level is shattering the dreams of the tribals. The tribals claim that Goa was shaped by their ancestors. Accepting their claims on the forests would be a legitimate recognition. The forest rights were formulated at national level to approve the same, but implementation at state level has been messed up with. Therefore, it has become a priority for the tribal leaders to concentrate on achieving the basic rights. Political reservation could be the ultimate goal, but it would be ideal to focus on granting forest rights to them.

There is encroachment of forest land by industries, mining and other forms of eco-ventures, and at the same time the government also wants forest land for development works like dams, various projects, railways, thus destroying the routes of wild animals and biological diversity. The issue wouldn’t have been complex if the survey of tribals cultivating in forest lands was undertaken before enforcing the law. Now, it is governed by ifs and buts.   

Now in order to effectively resolve these issues, especially the process of site inspection of abandoned forest claims should be undertaken priority and based on census reports and other evidence, the land should be immediately settled in the name of the tribals. Thus, the matter should be closed forever and the existence of this law should also be terminated. And, comprehensive measures should be undertaken to preserve the remaining forest land. Otherwise, destruction is evident since the destruction of biodiversity and forests may affect the very existence of human beings.


Idhar Udhar