Government to acquire 9,145 acres of land in Modhupur

KF Report: On 15 February 2016, the Forest Department of Environment and Forest Ministry issued a gazette declaring 9,145 acres of land in Modhupur Garh tract,  home to Garo, Barman, Koch and Dalu indigenous peoples, as reserved forest under the Forest Act, 1927 (At XVI of 1927).

This move of the government would adversely affect more than 15,000 forest-dependent indigenous peoples living in this area for generations. As far as local indigenous peoples are concerned, if the government’s decision come into force, the livelihood, culture and tradition would be seriously impaired as their life is entirely dependent on the forests. Local indigenous leaders alleged that the main objective of the government’s move is to grab the lands of local indigenous peoples manipulating the loopholes in the Forest Act, 1927.

The gazette mentions that the government declared this massive tract of land as a forest area with following objectives: 1) preservation of biodiversity; 2) set-up amusement facilities in the national forest, safari park, specially protected area and prospective tourist spots within the vicinity of the area; 3) stop illegal poaching, hunting and wildlife trade; and 4) ‘settle the clashes’ between the wildlife and the humans.

The international laws require the State or other private actors to seek free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from concerned indigenous peoples in the case they plan to enact or amend any policy relating to indigenous peoples and/or implement any projects in their lands. The proclamation of above-mentioned areas of Modhupur as reserve forest is a sheer violation of indigenous peoples right to FPIC.

Moreover, Section 6 of the Forest Act 1927 stipulates, “When a notification has been issued under section 4, the Forest Settlement-officer shall publish in Bengali in every town and village in the neighborhood of the land comprised therein, a proclamation – (a) specifying, as nearly as possible, the situation and limits of the proposed forest; (b) explaining the consequences which, as hereinafter provided, will ensue on the reservation of such forest; and (c) fixing a period of not less than three months and not more than four months from the date of such proclamation, and requiring every person claiming any right mentioned in section 4 or section 5, within such period either to present to the Forest Settlement-officer a written notice specifying or to appear before him and state, the nature of such right and the amount and particulars of the compensation (if any) claimed in respect thereof.”

Though there is such compulsory provision in the Forest Act to publish notice in every town and village in the neighborhood of the land comprised therein, Forest Department did not take any action in this regard. As a result, local indigenous peoples became aware of declaration of reserved forest just after issuing government notice under Section 20 of the Forest Act on 15 February 2016. This is the fact that the Forest Department did not comply with the provisions. The proclamation of Modhupur area as reserve forest is a direct violation of the Section 6 of Forest Act.

The history of Modhupur is shaded with blood. On 3 January 2004, Piren Snal, an indigenous rights activist was shot dead by police in a demonstration protesting government’s plans to construct an eco-park in Modhupur which would have threatened the lands and livelihood of the indigenous peoples of Modhupur. 30 More were also injured as police cracked down on with guns and bullets the peaceful rally of indigenous peoples.

Click here to download the government notice 

Published on 6 June 2016.