Law of no returns
Left helpless, the affected states have started demanding amendments to the fca. About a year ago, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh wrote to the prime minster requesting changes in the act. When the coordination committee of the Union home ministry met in April 2000, one of the main issues discussed was the amendment. Former Union minister of state for environment and forests and Jharkhand cm B abulal Marandi, supported this. However, the Union home minister has referred the matter to the mef. Except an informal acknowledgement, nothing has happened.Inside Chattisgarh’s Indravati Tiger Reserve, 56 villages were served an eviction notice when the reserve was proposed as a national park. Protests from villagers didn’t make much difference until the Naxalites intervened. “We had to change the map of the tiger reserve to exclude the villages from the reserve,” says a forest official. “Naxalites have always used people’s movement as a strategic way to mobilise people,” says Kodandaram Reddy, a professor of political science in Nizam College, Hyderabad who has written a book on 30 years of Naxalite movement.
The Naxalite movement has also gained ground due to protests against discrimination over non-timber forest produce (ntfp) and land rights. There are many ways tribal people are exploited: forest officials deny them access to forest areas, non-tribal people take over their lands through a torturous money lending process and traders cheat them while buying ntfp. This has left a large section of forest dwellers without any livelihood sources. “There is a deadly chasm between people and government. The Naxalites are cleverly exploiting this chasm,” says Reddy. “While trade in ntfp is limited, timber remains a government source of revenue. This has led to an imbalance of power at the grassroots.”
Tendu leaf is a major source of income for the tribal residents for six months of the year. But curbs imposed by forest officials have spawned resentment. The Srikakulam uprising in the 1960s, which laid the foundation for the movement in the ap, was based on the rights of the local hill tribes over forests (see box: Looking back ).
In Maharashtra too, the movement owes its origin to ntfp. Before 1980, the tribal people got as little as Rs 5 for 100 bundles of tendu leaf. But threats from Naxalites forced the government to increase the price