forest rights, conservation and dilemmas of growth © mazoomdaar 2011
Warlogs An epic three-way battle is unfolding in forests across India. It is time to take notice, and a stand. Because, more than anything else, the outcome of this tussle will decide our future. The Forest Rights Act (2006) was aimed at reversing the "historical injustice" done to tribals living inside forests at the mercy of bureaucracy and with no ownership of traditional resources. Advocates of the Act said it was the dual prescription for India's embattled wilderness and the marginalised millions: while these sustainable users of resources got their due, biodiversity would be better protected with new stakeholders. The critics, among them many conservationists, argued that forest resources were shrinking rapidly, and the changing lifestyle of the growing numbers of forest communities, was neither traditional nor sustainable. Besides, certain provisions of the Act could be manipulated by non-forest communities to usurp rights or, worse, the marginalised communities could be duped by political and market forces to hand over forest land. Lobbies aside, what is inarguable is that land is a scarce resource in an overpopulated country like India. For long, industry and agriculture have been eyeing protected forests; a consortium of timber, mining and poaching mafia continue to bleed them on the sly or in open collusion with the state machinery. This stark alignment of the three forces - tribal rights, conservation and big money -- began to take shape about six years ago. That was the time when a number of mega projects, such as the Navi Mumbai airport in Maharashtra and the Posco plant in Orissa, were proposed. In 2005, a national tiger task force was set up to strengthen India's conservation efforts. The next year, after a bitter tug-of-war between rights activists and conservationists, Parliament cleared the Forest Rights Act. Around the same time, the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) was amended as per the recommendation of the tiger task force and more than 50,000 families were offered Rs 10 lakh each to vacate India's tiger reserves. But can one-size-fits-all central Acts tackle challenges as varied as large-scale encroachment in Assam to the survival of an ancient tribe in Karnataka? Can poor forest dwellers assert their rights against a wily bureaucracy and keep the army of manipulative forces at bay? The answers to these questions will decide India's ecological future. This website attempts to read the early signals from this momentous makeover, and provide the indicators for possible mid-course correction. Home | Reports | Related Articles | Resources | Gallery | Feedback | Contact | About
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