No CWH status to Cotigao: Tribals

PANAJI: The Gawada, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar (GAKUVED) Federation has, in a memorandum, expressed opposition to the state government's decision to declare Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary a critical wildlife habitat.

The memorandum, submitted to a state-level expert committee formed to carry out public hearings in this regard, stated that the sanctuary should not be declared a critical wildlife habitat without settling the claims of tribals as has been provided under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

The Federation has stated that not settling the claims of the tribes and forest dwellers first will amount to a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The article assures the Adivasi tribes the right to their environment and the right to live with human dignity.

To further highlight problems relating to land belonging to the tribal people, the GAKUVED Federation has attached to the memorandum, recommendations made in this regard by the jury of a 'people's tribunal' formed by the Federation.

After hearing 60 submissions by tribals from different parts of Goa, the people's tribunal has stated in its report, "In all the cases we have heard, it is seen that land records have either been manipulated in the revenue department, without any notice to the Adivasis who have been in possession of the land for generations, or they have been vacated from their land by force." The panel has also brought to light cases of police repression when the Adivasis have had to resort to protests for their rights, as narrated by the tribals.

"The land problems associated with forest lands have arisen either due to the settlement process being ignored or because of faulty settlement. It has resulted in non-recording and non-recognition of rights. All these cases now come under the purview of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, whose implementation has not been initiated by the government...All proceedings to have the Adivasis dispossessed should be stopped forthwith," the GAKUVED Federation has demanded.

The memorandum also stated, "The fields, khazans, plateaus, forests and water bodies have been nurtured and preserved by the Adivasis whose livelihoods are sustainable and harmonious with nature. However, irresponsible mining, indiscriminate industrialization and haphazard real estate development have been responsible for the attack on the lands, lives and livelihoods of these very Adivasis who have been the custodians of Goa's environment."

The organization, therefore, states that every planning and development exercise should include the restoration of the land use based on traditional rights of the Adivasis on Goa's land.