1500 tribal citizens celebrating Democracy

October 1: Jawhar (Dist. Thane)
DSC_0819About 1,500 tribal citizens gathered in the tribal town of Jawhar to celebrate Lokshahi Vijay Yatra (Democracy victory) and danced through the streets of the town to the tunes of traditional tribal instruments like Tarpa, Dhol, and Toor. This event was organized by Vayam movement to celebrate the victory in getting information about Forest Rights claims. 1,274 citizens had participated in the RTI Satyagraha organized to bring transparency in the implementation of Forest Rights Act. This event was unique with a big number of tribal people expressing their faith in democracy.
The implementation of Forest Rights Act began in 2008, however tribal farmers are yet to get the ownership of ancestral lands that are in Forest Department possession since British times. Jawhar, Vikramgad, and Dahanu tehsils in Thane district have a huge number of complaints by tribal tillers that they were given only a fraction of ownership thus keeping them deprived of the actual land they have been holding. The additional collector’s office at Jawhar and the Sub-Divisional Officer did not give any information despite 1274 citizens filing RTI applications in April. The case later went to the State Chief Information Commissioner who gave a verdict in favour of the citizens. The SCIC ordered immediate disclosure of information through letters, website, and through Gram Panchayat notice boards. The SCIC also ordered that all tribal claimants throughout the state should be given this information. The tribal villagers participating in the Vayam movement saw this as a victory of democracy. They proclaimed their happiness by the traditional expression of dance.
DSC_0846The Lokshahi Vijay Yatra received a tremendous response from villagers and ten new villages also joined the movement. Vayam’s leading local activists Prakash Baraf and Anil Lohar addressed the mass at the end of Yatra. Mr. Baraf read out the information he had received. He said the Forest Department has filled their forms without making any field visits and the SDLC (Sub-Divisional Level Committee) and the DLC (District Level Committee) had filled their verification reports without informing the claimant. He showed blank reports signed by the committees. Mr. Lohar told the people that the committees had people’s representatives who have blindly signed such reports. He appealed to the people to go and check the representatives’ actions and ‘make them do their job’. Vayam’s organizer Milind Thatte appealed to all villages that they must file community rights claims and conserve the forest for present and future generations. Such claims are already filed by four of Vayam’s villages and they have prepared Biodiversity Registers. All four villages were recently awarded funds by the State Biodiversity Boards for conservation of biodiversity.

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