Request for Solidarity; Struggle and Sabotage Continue


Friends,

We would first like to request your solidarity. We are asking people to write to Vanashakti in response to their distorted campaign againts the Act. Sample emails (along with addresses) are below this message. If you agree with us that this group's approach is deeply elitist and anti-democratic - regardless of what you may feel about the Act and our position - please consider sending emails to them. You can get more information at the website: http://forestrightsact.awardspace.com.

The efforts to kill the Forest Rights Act are continuing, but so is the fight for it. On Thursday, October 25th, more than 3000 adivasis – 3023 to be precise – courted arrest and were briefly detained in Udaipur as part of the ongoing Campaign protests for the Act. In Madhya Pradesh, morchas and public meetings are being held to build up to a massive jail bharo andolan in Bhopal on November 15th, organised by the Jangal Jeevan Adhikar Andolan (a joint front of CSD constituents and several other organisations). About 30,000 people are expected to court arrest on the 15th.

Despite all this, the games at the Centre continue. Last week, the Act was on the verge of being notified, but was again stopped by intervention – ostensibly on wildlife grounds – by the Congress leadership (with Rahul Gandhi and Mrs. Gandhi being reported to be playing the key role). Proposals for excluding protected areas from the Act were and probably are being discussed, though this would be completely illegal. The proposals made in 2005 are now being discussed again – notwithstanding that they were then rejected as untenable both within the government and by Parliament.

A very small group of hardline conservationists is using their clout with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mrs. Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, and the courts to try every method possible to destroy this legislation. The justifications given for this opposition are extremely flimsy. In their Supreme Court petition against the Act, the BNHS / WPSI claimed that if tigers could live with human beings, they would have been domesticated (contradicting history, science and common sense). Vanashakti declared that their opposition to this Act is because of a "dinner table conversation" and that they have no knowledge of forestry or related sciences, which has not prevented them from making all kinds of far fetched claims.

Moreover this law is about far more than protected areas and far more than inviolate zones for wildlife – it is about all the forest areas of the country, concerning crores of people, many of whom do not live in wildlife areas (and at times not even in actual forests) at all. Moreover, for protected areas, it provides clear steps by which inviolate zones can be created.

Most likely this opposition must therefore be motivated by one or both of the following:


  1. opposition to the very notion of rights, since it is far better for such "conservationists" if forest and wildlife protection remains in the hands of a centralised bureaucracy where they have influence – notwithstanding the devastating consequences for wildlife itself;

  2. corporate interests in eco-tourism and in easy diversion of forests, both of which might 'suffer' if local people are able to resist and demand accountability.


A good example of the latter came up last week. The Vedanta corporation wishes to mine the Niyamgiri hill in Lanjigarh, Orissa – a major forest area critical for wildlife and for water sources. In the face of concerted opposition by the Dongaria Kondh tribal community, for whom the mountain is sacred, the corporation has been trying every possible method to get access to this area, including giving false information to the Central government and breaking forest laws. The Supreme Court however is about to give them permission to go ahead (in a repeat of the Vasant Kunj malls case last year, where violations by big companies seem to find a sympathetic ear in the judiciary). A senior lawyer appearing on behalf of tribals was not even allowed to speak in the Court hearing last week, after which the Bench reserved orders.


Had the Forest Rights Act been in force, protection of the Niyamgiri mountain would have been a right of the local community under multiple sections of the Act (traditional rights, community forest resources, habitat of a primitive tribal group, etc.). That would at least have given them another tool to fight with in the face of a system determined to destroy their homeland.


Now tragedy looms for yet another community and yet another forest. Meanwhile, a powerful mining corporation and a handful of wealthy conservationists must both be celebrating their ability to sabotage democracy.


Campaign for Survival and Dignity


EMAIL TO VANASHAKTI


To: vanashakti@gmail.com


Dear Vanashakti,


I write to protest your campaign against the Forest Rights Act.


I recognise that there are criticisms of this legislation and you may have differences with its purpose and form. But your campaign distorts the entire meaning of this law by making it seem to be a land distribution scheme rather than a law for recognition of rights. Both your website and your advertisements show total insensitivity towards the the injustice committed against tribals and forest dwellers. Moreover, your method of campaigning through TV advertisements presents an entirely one sided picture of this issue and is inimical to any dialogue or democratic debate. Finally, I must protest your insistence that this is a question of "upliftment" rather than rights and justice.


I request that you cease your campaign, consider all sides of this issue and engage with the reality of forest areas.


Sincerely,