Forest rights movement bothers Naxals

A movement promoting self-rule in villages and community rights to forests has come under attack from Naxals in the region where it was pioneered.

Maoists in Gadchiroli have hit out strongly at leaders who have been using the “Gandhian” ideal of non-violence in spearheading the community forest rights (CFR) movement in tribal areas. They have charged Mohan Hirabai Hiralal, who pioneered the model in Mendha-Lekha village, with “waylaying the tribals from the path of conflict”.

CFR has been provided by the Forest Rights Act and Mendha-Lekha was the first village in the country to secure it after a long struggle. It paved the way for thousands of villages in the country to get community rights over their traditional nistar (utility) forests.

“Hiralal is a follower of Vinoba Bhave, who had sought land from the rich. He is trying to cover up the violence by capitalists against the poor by professing non-violence,” says a press note released by the CPI(Maoist)’s Gadchiroli divisional committee.

Naxals have termed the movement a conspiracy to deprive tribals of their rights to the entire jal, jungle, zamin (water, forest, land). “All this is going on to rob the tribals of their jal, jungle and zamin. Instead of giving the tribals all of it entirely, they are trying to fool them by giving only the minor forest produce,” the Maoists have said.

Naxals have reportedly warned Devaji Tofa, Mendha-Lekha’s community leader, not to advocate the idea of CFR to other villages. Tofa refuses to speak on such reports.

Naxals have criticised Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who had called upon Mendha-Lekha to shut their door on Naxals during his last visit. “Ramesh actually wants to rid Gadchiroli of tribals. All forest laws must be scrapped,” the note says, naming some major companies as “conveners” and several leaders as “directors of the violence against tribals.”

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