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Communists challenge India's Modi over mass evictions of indigenous people

INDIA’S Communists are demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi take urgent action to prevent the eviction of over a million indigenous people from their homes.

Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member Brinda Karat said the evictions amounted to a “virtual declaration of war against adivasis” (the collective term for indigenous groups, many of whom live in relatively undeveloped forest areas).

Under the Forest Rights Act tribespeople whose families had lived on land for three generations or more as of 2005 have the right to keep doing so, but a lengthy process of assessing claims has rejected more than half of four million occupancy claims. 

A case brought to the Supreme Court by conservation group Wildlife First called for those whose applications had been unsuccessful to be kicked off the land, arguing they were encroaching on the jungle and threatening rare species.

But in a sharp letter to Mr Modi, Ms Karat accused the government of indulging racism against the adivasis, arguing that although Wildlife First had taken the Forest Ministry to court, the ministry’s counsel hadn’t even shown up to contest the case. 

Ms Karat sat on the parliamentary select committee which reviewed the Bill that became the Forest Rights Act and said she was “personally aware of strong lobbies who argued against granting any rights to adivasis.” 

And she expressed scepticism that the evictions were motivated by environmental concerns, saying: “Land occupied by adivasis is being handed over to big companies for projects and also for mining … in the last five years your government has passed several laws which dilute and eliminate the protections given by the Forest Rights Act, including amendments to the Mining Act [and] the Compensatory Afforestation Act.”

Official statistics released in December show that between 2015 and 2018 the Modi government diverted over 20,000 hectares of forest land for “developmental activities such as mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation projects” — an area larger than Calcutta.

Its “ease of business” programme has cut environmental regulations, bringing the average processing time for approving clearance of forest land down from 580 days for bids approved in 2014 to just 180 days by the end of 2017. 

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