Madhya Pradesh villagers claim Mahan forest rights

Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh; Dec 5 : Residents of Amelia village in Mahan region of Singrauli district in Madhya Pradesh have taken a significant step towards asserting their rights over Mahan forests.

The village level forest rights committee Thursday kick started the process of filing the first Community Forest Rights (CFR) claim. In a letter to the sub-divisional level committee (SDLC) in Waidhan, the forest rights committee in Amelia demanded the disclosure of documents that prove their dependence on Mahan forests and will help them fill the claim application later on.

The move will put a spanner in the works of the state government and Mahan Coal Ltd, who have been pushing for Stage II environmental clearance for mining in Mahan coal block, which falls in the Mahan forest, said Greenpeace.

The block threatens to destroy the lives of livelihoods of people living in 14 villages in the region, including residents of Amelia, the organization said.

"Filing of the first CFR claim is a big victory for the villagers of Amelia. As per the Forest Rights Act (FRA), villagers can file claims for the recognition of Community Forest Rights. The 'call for documents' is the first formal step towards this process, where the forest rights committee at the village level writes to the SDLC to furnish all historical documents, which can help them prove their claim," says Priya Pillai, member of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) and senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, who has been has been working in the villages in Mahan around the implementation of the FRA.

The CFR Claim Process

The letter sent by the village level forest rights committee to the SDLC under FRA calls for documents such as, maps of the forest, nistaar (release) letter, and other documents related to the forest resource plans. After the SDLC furnishes the information, the forest rights committee in Amelia would fill in the requisite form for the CFR claim, along with all the required documents and maps.

The form would then be vetted by the village Gram Sabha and passed on to the SDLC, and then finally to the district level committee chaired by the district collector. The district level committee then would have to recognize the CFR claim and provide a letter recognizing it in the name of Amelia Gram Sabha.

Hardayal Singh, who is the chairperson of the village level forest rights committee, hopes that the SDLC will be proactive in furnishing the required documents so that the CFR claim process can be initiated.

"These documents are important for us as they will help us claim our community rights in the Mahan forests, which is now threatened by coal mining. Members of MSS in my village have been proactively pushing for the implementation of FRA in the Mahan forests. My entire village is dependent on the forest for their livelihoods," said Singh, who is also a member of MSS.

MSS demands that the documents should be provided as soon as possible to put an end to the gross violations of Forest Rights Act in the region.

There are 62 villages dependant on the Mahan forests of Singrauli. Community members from five villages (Amelia, Bandhaura, Budher, Suhira and Barwantola in the Mahan forests have organised themselves under the banner of MSS to assert their forest rights and have been opposing the proposed mine of Mahan Coal ltd (a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco). The Mahan coal block was initially rejected by former Environment minister Jairam Ramesh. However, it was granted in-principal (Stage I) approval by the MoEF on October 18, 2012, after substantial pressure from the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Coal Mining. This approval came with 36 conditions, which require a range of studies to be completed and the processes under the Forest Rights Act to be complied with.

Granting forest clearance to the mine will destroy the livelihoods of 14,190 people, out of which 5,650 are from tribal communities as per the 2001 census. These people are from 14 villages which are completely dependent on Mahan forests. Stage II clearance to Mahan coal block would mean opening doors for other coal blocks like Chatrasal awaiting approvals in the Mahan forests, which will further fragment the entire forests in the region.

--IBNS (Posted on 05-12-2013)

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