(New York) - The Indian government should stop forced eviction and relocation of tens of thousands of men, women, and children from their forest settlements in Andhra Pradesh where they sought safety from the violence in neighboring Chhattisgarh state, Human Rights Watch said today.
In the latest crackdown against displaced persons, the Andhra Pradesh forest department on April 5, 2008, destroyed homes of displaced indigenous persons residing in Kothooru village to forcibly evict them. Since January 2007, the Andhra Pradesh forest department has made about 10 attempts to forcibly evict displaced persons from Kothooru.
“Many thousands of men, women, and children fled to Andhra Pradesh from the conflict in Chhattisgarh,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of providing them with safe sanctuary, the authorities are tearing down their homes and putting them in harm’s way.”
Since June 2005, between 30,000 and 50,000 people have fled to Khammam and Warrangal districts of Andhra Pradesh following escalating tensions in Chhattisgarh between Naxalites, an armed Maoist group, and a state-supported vigilante group called Salwa Judum. Although the Indian federal, and Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh state governments describe Salwa Judum as a “spontaneous uprising against Naxal abuses,” Human Rights Watch found that police routinely participate in violent Salwa Judum raids against villages suspected of being pro-Naxalite. According to Human Rights Watch investigations in November and December 2007, most villagers fled to Andhra Pradesh because of attacks by Salwa Judum and police.
Once in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, many of these displaced persons settled in reserved forest areas. Saying these settlements are illegal, the authorities have without prior notice or due process repeatedly burned down the hamlets of hundreds of displaced persons, forcibly evicting them from forest lands. In some cases, Andhra Pradesh forest department officials have forced them into trucks and dropped them close to the Chhattisgarh state boundary.
A Human Rights Watch investigation in November and December 2007 found that Andhra Pradesh authorities have also failed to provide the displaced persons with basic assistance including food, water, shelter, medical services, sanitation, and livelihood opportunities as set out by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The Andhra Pradesh government denies existing government welfare benefits to those displaced on several grounds, including that they are not residents of Andhra Pradesh.
“The Indian federal and Andhra Pradesh state governments have done nothing in nearly three years to address the massive displacement of people from Chhattisgarh,” Ganguly said. “Thousands of people need help, and the government has utterly failed to respond to their needs. Instead, they try to force them back to areas where they are even more vulnerable. It’s unacceptable.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to immediately draw up a plan to address the specific protection and assistance needs of displaced persons in Andhra Pradesh. The government should take immediate steps to prevent the Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments from unlawful forced relocation and extend all government welfare schemes to displaced persons without discriminating against them.
The Indian government should also develop a comprehensive national policy for internally displaced persons in consultation with displaced persons, governmental, non-governmental, and inter-governmental organizations, and in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.