Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kerala remiss in implementing Forest Rights Act: a letter to Brinda Karat

Mr T.Madhava Menon, former IAS officer who headed the Tribal Mission of Kerala and is an ardent supporter of the Adivasis’ struggles for justice, has asked Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member Brinda Karat to examine “independently and sympathetically” how her party’s government is implementing the Tribal Rights Act in Kerala.

Madhava Menon, who is a Senior Fellow of the International School of Dravidian Linguistics, Thiruvananthapuram, made the suggestion in a letter he wrote to Ms Karat on Tuesday in response to a statement by her.

The following is the text of the letter:


I have been concerned with the condition of Scheduled Tribes people, especially those living in the Forests of Kerala. I was therefore heartened to read the report in The Hindu, Thiruvananthapuram Edition, 15 Feb 2011, in which you had condemned the Central Government circular proclaiming the Forest Department’s unrestrained powers to declare any forest as a “critical wild life habitat” without first observing the spirit of the “Forest Rights Act”.

You complimented the State Govt. of Tripura, as the only one that had implemented the Act in true spirit. On the other hand, you found Congress- and BJP-ruled States as being especially at fault. I am afraid you will have to add the State Govt. of Kerala, ruled under a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leadership, as equally, if not more remiss.

Recently, a renowned NGO conducted a case study of some Kanikkar settlements deep in the Thiruvananthapuram Forest division as a sample. The study was conducted among the forest dwelling Kanikkar in the Fourth and the Fifth wards of the Kuttichal Panchayat, and found the members of the Panchayat, the members of the Forest Rights Committee that has been constituted there, the ST Promoters, and the field level officers of the Forest Department not very knowledgeable about the provisions of the Act. No serious efforts had been taken to educate the concerned persons about these provisions.

Within the jurisdiction of the Forest Rights Committee (FRC) at Kottoor, there are 192 families living in 16 settlements. The members are 5 ladies and 5 men, with the ST Promoter as the secretary; he has received training from KIRTADS about the Act. He has conducted some meetings of the Ooru koottam-s where he has tried to transmit some awareness, by no means adequate. The FRC recieived 68 claim petitions. Significantly, 110 members from 8 settlements declared that they do not require any land allotment under this Act. The FRC recommended grant of lands in 43 petitions received by it, and has forwarded them to the regional (ITDP) and from it, to the District level.

The Survey team constituted by Government commenced to measure the land under actual possession of the applicant families, according to the records of a survey conducted in 1980 (for the purposes of implementation of the Forest Conservation Act). This was (rightly) opposed by the tribal people, because it obviously restricted their holdings under the compulsions of the Forest Department. They further (rightly) argued that they are entitled to the lands they traditionally used to enjoy before the Department encroached on their holdings. This fact, that the survey would limit the areas they would ultimately get to the areas allowed by the Forest Department, and not what they were entitled to under the Act, was one of the reasons why so few were interested in filing applications. According to the perceptions of the study team, the Kanikkar had always suffered from deprivation of even the basic requirements of good living, and health facilities, and had lost all faith in Government and its officials. They found that the benefits conveyed through the agencies of government are not according to their entitlements, nor aimed at their sustainable development.

In Mannarkat Forest Division, the DFO “vetoed” the recommendations of the Forest Rights Committee, on the ground that the tribal people were entitled only to such extents of land as had been “allotted” to them by the Forest Department according to a unilateral survey that had been conducted a few years back (before the enactment of the Forest Rights Act). This seems to be the accepted view of the Department and the Government. As you know, this is violently in conflict with the provisions of the Act, under which a tribal person has to establish his rights under a variety of evidences, including documents, descriptions, and testimony of earlier reports by anthropologists. His rights are certainly not limited to what the Department, during the course of “Historical Injustice”, compounded by the barbarism of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, deigns to “allot” to them.

The net result has been that the tribal persons are being offered only the lands within the “jundas” (boundary marks) erected by the Department after a survey, intended mainly for the strict implementation of the Forest Conservation Act. The result is that the State of Kerala, under the governance of your Party, leads all the rest in oppressing and denying the ST people their legitimate rights.
It is with considerable pain that I write this letter of condemnation of your Party’s government in Kerala. I had always felt that your Party was sincere in its posture of equity and social justice. Your Party, and especially yourself, were instrumental in the enactment of this Act, which is indeed a magna carta for the tribal forest dwellers. But your Party’s government in Kerala has made a travesty of it.

I hope that your Party will consider the issue sufficiently important to examine, independently and sympathetically, how your Party’s Government is implementing the Act in Kerala.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

T. Madhava Menon.

Mr Madhava Menon can be contacted at

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The return of a sex scandal


With the Left Democratic Front’s term drawing to a close, Kerala is in election mode. The first sign of the poll season was a foundation laying spree. Then came a surer sign: a sex scandal. Many of the projects for which foundation stones are laid are not new. The sex scandal, too, is not new.

For three decades, the LDF, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress, have been voted to office in the state in alternate elections. As such, it is now the UDF’s turn. Having done well in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and, rather unexpectedly, in last year’s panchayat poll too, the UDF was brimming with confidence. Having been drubbed in two successive elections and having lost two allies, the Janata Dal (S) and the Kerala Congress (Joseph), the CPI (M) was seeking to refurbish its image damaged by the differing signals sent out by Chief Minister and state party secretary throughout the life of this government.

Suddenly, a sex scandal that refuses to die darkened the political landscape, casting gloom over the entire UDF camp. The ice cream parlour case, as it is known, was one of half a dozen sex scandals that broke in the 1990s, in which the names of several VIPs cropped up. Its central character is P. K. Kunhalikutty, general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest constituent of the UDF. He was not among the accused in the case but he had to bow out of the last UDF government as one of the victims named him in a television interview.

Getting wind of another television bomb being readied by his detractors, Kunhalikutty announced at a news conference that K.A. Rauf, husband of his wife’s younger sister, was preparing a video to blackmail him and posing a threat to his life. When he was Industry Minister, Rauf had figured in media reports as a fixer. He admitted having shown him favours and vowed not to yield to blackmail again. Rauf appeared before television cameras immediately and confessed to his role in bribing girls to keep Kunhalikutty’s name out of their testimony. Malayalam news channel Indiavision aired a report which, it said, it had been working on for four months, based on information provided by Rauf. It included secretly filmed sequences in which a former government prosecutor refers to bribing of two judges who had handled issues relating the parlour case in the high court. The ex-prosecutor disowned the statement and the ex-judges denied the allegation.

The LDF quickly moved in to cash in on the fallout. The police registered cases on the basis of the media reports, the government explored the possibility of reopening of the parlour case in the light of the new revelations, and party leaders made it the main talking point.

The UDF was in disarray. It was Indiavision, which had first telecast the interview which cost Kunhalikutty his ministership in 2004. Its chairman, M. K. Muneer, who too is an IUML leader and former minister, distanced himself from the reports damaging to his senior colleague saying he does not interfere in the freedom of the editorial department and was unaware of what it was doing. Some elements in the UDF may not be unhappy over the developments as they can be used to rein in the IUML. Muslims in the northern parts having been slow in taking to family planning, the community’s population had registered considerable growth, leading to an increase in the number of Assembly seats from the region. As the dominant party of the region, IUML has a strong claim to the additional seats.

Sex scandals have been talked about at every election in the past 15 years. However, they have not impeded the swing of pendulum so far. Also, which front is in power and which front the VIP suspects belong to have made little difference to the handling of the cases.