Forest Rights Act Being Stalled Internally, Forest Destruction Accelerating

Dear all,

The Forest Rights Act is being indefinitely stalled, it seems from reports.  These reports say that a few young Congress leaders, probably including Rahul Gandhi, have been misguided into believing that the Act will destroy wildlife.  Their opposition has led to further sabotage and the delay in the notification of the Act, ignoring the rights of the crores of people whose lives are being held hostage.  Meanwhile, evictions continue: as in Kumbalgarh in Rajasthan, where three days ago the Forest Department tried to evict pre-1970 cultivators, leaving several people injured and one in jail.  Even existing law says that the land is theirs. 

For the handful of hardline conservationists who have created this situation, no doubt this is a desired outcome.  Better to ignore the transparent procedures for wildlife conservation contained in the Act.  Better to act as though the oppression of crores of people in forests does not exist.  Better to malign those of their colleagues who believe that conservation and justice must go together. Better to act as though "inviolate areas" means only inviolate for local communities - while being completely open to tourism and resort construction.

Are we supposed to believe these people's bona fides any longer?  The Act provides a route for creating inviolate areas which has been supported by environmentalists.  Yet this too is to be ignored.  Instead, these people are persuading Mr. Gandhi and others to support the sham tiger conservation plan being pushed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which essentially aims to allocate huge sums of money with no accountability while generating more conflict.  Until this plan is implemented, they wish to stall the Forest Rights Act entirely.

Meanwhile, Vedanta in Orissa is on the verge of wiping out a sacred forest and a whole community, the Polavaram dam is going to destroy thousands of hectares of forest, and the inhuman salwa judum campaign in Chhatisgarh is opening huge areas to mining.  Hardly any of those now writing against the Forest Rights Act has ever written about these issues, which are being fought by people on the ground.  More than 5,00,000 hectares of forest were destroyed for such projects between 2001 and 2006 - more than in the previous twenty years put together. 

All of these things would also become much more difficult once the Forest Rights Act is in force and people have rights to their resources.  THis leads one to wonder whose cause these hardline conservationists are serving, especially when they so viciously attack forest dwelling communities while maintaining a deafening silence on these other trends.  Is this conservation?  Or is this becoming a convenient facade for entirely different forces?

Campaign for Survival and Dignity
October 14, 2007