Burning Issues




-Shivani Thakur



       A Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act has been drafted by Ministry of Tribal Affairs. This entails giving land back to tribal people who were deprived of their lands by the imperial powers at that time to reserve forests for commercial purposes. This bill when enacted would undo the historical injustices meted out to the ‘adivasis’. This bill has lot of clauses among which are granting rights as well as duties to forest dwellers and safeguarding health of forests. The bill also says that forests including protected areas and national sanctuaries some of which have tribal population will be divided between Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA) and Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).


                But even before this bill can be enacted, many environmentalists and few politicians are up against many of its clauses. The forests reserves are managed by MoEF.”According to Himraj Dang, who has written a book on Sariska National Park, “this could spell disaster. If this bill gets passed around 15 percent of forest area would be transferred from MoEF to MTA.”   The MTA would offer these lands to government agencies for development for projects like schools, dispensaries etc. Whether this would actually help tribals or help the people who promote this bill to reinstate themselves to power is debatable. How can the same government agencies provide all these facilities inside forests when they have failed to deliver them outside forests?

Although there is another clause that says that no more than 50 trees will be allowed to be felled and planting and maintaining twice the number of trees along with promoting indigenous species is risky. This may seem very simple on paper but maintaining a balance would not be easy because if laws are violated the responsibility would be shuttled between the two ministries because of duality of control. This loggerhead situation has resulted in many diverse opinions. Sunita Narain, Tiger Force Chairman, has supported the bill in principle saying that a threat is not seen to protected areas if we accept the tribals right to minor forest produce. But she also advocates  community reserves where communities living on the periphery of sanctuaries can actually help in controlling the depleting population of animals and illegal cutting of trees.


                   Project Tiger ex-director H.S.Panwar and activist Valmik Thapar have opposed it vehemently. Panwar says that traditional nomadic lifestyle is not viable in many parts of India due to the decreasing land-people/livestock ratio. Tribals were wrongly stripped of their rights under colonial rule but restoring to pre-colonial situation would be a mistake. “ We must share the economic fruits of our mega-diversity with locals and address their livelihood concerns”


A new approach to conversation is needed which protects the whole ecosystems. Resettlement of tribals, providing equivalent amounts of land, and executing with the help of courts and NGO’s would end the long suffering of tribals. Discouraging direct subsistence on forest resources is not denying the tribals their rights. The forest belongs to them and their future will be secure only if they have an option to live on the interest and leave the capital untouched.


( Photograph taken at Mandal, Uttaranchal by Shashi Sharma )


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