Of the total 60,000 claims filed under the Forest Rights Act in Assam, nearly 30,000 came from a single district. Little wonder, then, that the administration controls less than a third of Sonitpur’s forests. While no political party minds legalising this mass encroachment in the Bodo heartland, the fate of the wilderness hangs by a 2009 High Court order.
The Left Front has been the biggest advocate of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), but its own former rule in home state West Bengal saw its worst abuse as well. Forest villagers dependent on tea garden jobs are indifferent to the Act. Families inside the Buxa tiger reserve are keen to surrender their rights for Rs 10 lakh each. But away from tea gardens and outside the tiger reserve, forest communities have bigger demands than the FRA allows. And a desperate forest department twists the Act to retain control.
While the great Indian middle class obsesses with cricket and corruption, an epic three-way battle is unfolding in forests across the country. It is time to take notice, and a stand. Because, more than anything else, the outcome of this tussle will decide India’s future