Sun. May 26th, 2024

It all started when litigations questioning the constitutional legitimacy of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) were filed in the high courts and the apex court of the country by wildlife advocacy groups like Wildlife First Trustee, Nature Conservation Society, etc., in 2008.

The Act has been passed to “recognize and vest the forest rights and occupation of forest land” of the Schedule Tribes (STs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) in the wake of correcting the historical injustices they were subjected to.

As per the FRA 2006, in cases of dispute over land, precedence has to be given to STs and OTFDs.

The line of argument put forth by the petitioners develops on the empirically weak idea that recognition of the forest dwellers’ claims would hamper wildlife and forests, as it would lead to their disappearance.

Since then, the Supreme Court has passed over 80 orders in the case. Various evidence also portrays that a significant number of forest rights claims have been wrongfully denied, paving the way for the prolonged oppression of forest dwellers and communities.

This dichotomy between the forest dwellers and conservatives deepens with a series of new challenges incurred by the Forest Conservation Rules (FCR) of 2022, coupled with the already ill-implemented Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.

Forest Conservation Rules and why was the need to go beyond?

The Forest Conservation Rules of 1981 provide for the conservation of forests. However, it had a lacuna that it does not mention or recognize the rights of tribes and forest dwellers. In the set of rules, the term tribes were not mentioned.

After that, the Forest Conservation Rules of 2003 prescribed the two stages of approval for any application by any entity to use forest land.

Image: Mint

In addition, mentions like “recognition and vesting of forest rights by the provisions of Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006” and “consent” from the Gram Sabha – gave utmost importance to the people’s governance and hence, ideally, given an opportunity to the forest dwellers to participate in decision-making processes.

Forest Conservation Rules 2022: What has changed?

The amended rules do not require the collector to seek consent from the Gram Sabha before the in-principle approval. It directs that the state governments may pass an order after the final approval of the Union Government.

In addition, forest rights could merely make an appearance in the rules, which further suggests that neither the Gram-Sabha approval is necessary to obtain before the grant of the in-principle approval nor is it required for the official to oversee the process of recognition and vesting of forest rights before the grant of an in-principle approval.

The indigenous people of the country are once again reduced to mere bystanders to the process that primarily affects their livelihood, land, culture, and traditions.

The new rules of 2022 display archaic thinking that call for greater state control over the land.

The attempts to ease the business opportunities somehow lead us towards diluting the essence of forest rights and the idea of conservation. Forests are not just a piece of valuable land; they provide a home to flora, fauna, and affluent indigenous communities.

This omission of people’s governance and gradual increase in the role of private players will not only lead to the exhaustion of forest resources but will eventually result in the disappearance of carbon sinks like green covers.

Proportionate relationship of indigenous communities with forests

The tribes and forest dwellers are intertwined with the forest ecosystem in terms of their culture and traditions. Threats to their livelihoods are equivalent to threats to the environment.

Furthermore, in contrast to private players, their biological adaptations and spiritual beliefs contribute to the sustainable use of forests and their resources.

The argument of conservationists that their claims will lead to deforestation lacks empirical evidence and is based on ideological understandings of the issue.

With the Paris Agreement, the world recognized and embraced indigenous people and their environment for the first time.

Desertification and the saviors of disaster:

The movement of communities follows the rhythm of the seasons, which helps them regenerate vegetation while combating desertification.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, between 2006 and 2011, indigenous and tribal territories in the Peruvian Amazon had lower average deforestation rates than forests in every Latin American nation.

In addition, the intertwined relationship between the environment and communities helps preserve the biodiversity of the region.

For instance, as FAO data highlights, nearly two-thirds of Bolivia’s vertebrate species and around 60 percent of its plant species can be found in the Tacana and Leco de Apolo indigenous territories.

Lust for resources & Power

The lust for mineral resources like coal, gold, etc., lies beneath the ancestral territories of tribal communities; mining and other extraction practices not only jibe at the ecological footprint but have also led to large-scale land dispossession for tribal communities and fractured their governance and social fabric.

Indigenous people, who popularly appear as ‘backward’ because of their remoteness, have been battling the fight against oppression and exploitation under the umbrella of development. 

Deforestation, chemicals running off the local water bodies, affecting food chains, gradual increase in substance abuse and crimes like rape hampers the social apparatus to the extent that pushes such communities on the verge of extinction. 

The familiar conflict of development and ecology:

The dichotomy between the two has multiple untapped areas to unfold, starting from the popular notion of division of labour, to the economic ambitions of nation-states, population, poverty, ethnicity, gender, etc.

Economic growth indeed remains a constant focal point of every economy.

Development and ecology are inextricably linked, where the optimal utilization of resources is a prerequisite for growth, the process of safeguarding the ecosystem certainly slows down the pace of development.

However, the trajectory of the environment and ecology is cyclic. Hence, the tracks that now appear to be entangled can work parallel to each other.

For instance, conservation can fight the odds of poverty and hazards, which could foster a developed environment, saving significant amounts to maintain soil productivity.

It’s time to dispel the preconceived notions that the two cannot coexist hand in hand and reconstruct an integrated understanding that could complement both through policies and actions. 

By Alaina Ali Beg

I am a lover of all arts and therefore can dream myself in all places where the World takes me. I am an avid animal lover and firmly believes that Nature is the true sorcerer.

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