Editorial Simplified: A Fight for the Forest| GS – II


Relevance :  GS Paper II (Welfare)


Theme of the Article

Conservationists should protect the welfare of both wildlife and forest dwellers and stand up to bigger players.

Why has this issue cropped up?

On February 28, the Supreme Court stayed its order on the eviction of lakhs of Adivasis and other forest dwellers whose claims were rejected under the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA). The court has asked State governments for a detailed report on whether due process was followed by gram sabhas and authorities under the FRA before claims were rejected.

Impact of the order

  • For millions of Adivasis and forest dwellers, the stay offers only a temporary relief.
  • But it provides an opportunity to figure out how conservation movements can advocate both nature and social justice in India.

Issues with Eviction

  • There is a lack of peer-reviewed studies that quantify the extent of deforestation caused by marginalized communities in comparison to large industrial and infrastructural projects.
  • In 2006, well before the FRA implementation started, the Environment Ministry directed State governments to declare all existing Protected Areas as critical tiger habitats, so that they would not be controlled under this Act.
  • In 2012, the govt tried to remove critical tiger habitats from the purview of the National Board for Wildlife, purportedly to make diversion of forest land easier.
  • There are serious concerns about the rejection process, unfamiliarity with the language of the FRA, and outdated forest maps.
  • The state is bestowing large companies with kindness and second chances despite severe legal violations during the planning, construction and operation stages of projects.

Way forward

  • To make conservation not just effective but also just. To do this, they argue, conservation actions must be based on the same principles as social justice. Interestingly, the authors, all of whom are wildlife biologists, do not argue for an anthropocentric view of conservation.
  • If  conservation calls for restriction of human activities in some way, that sacrifice must be made, except where doing so would result in injustice, especially to the most marginalised communities.
  • District administrations should assist the process of granting rights by making maps and other data available to protect applicants from exploitation.
  • Conservation cannot be about demanding unjust sacrifices from the weakest, while forest diversion by the powerful remains unchecked.

Conclusion

Conservationists should stand up for the welfare of both wildlife and forest dwellers. This is the only way we can build an effective and equitable conservation movement.