Forest Rights Without Forests?

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

The battle continues to rage. Forest dwellers must have the right to exploit their lands, even in the heart of biodiverse areas.

That this is resulting in a sythe  cutting through the very forests that are supposed to deliver rights is lost in the enthusiam to deliver 'justice' to long-suffering communities.

But the issue is actually quite simple: Na rahe baans, na baje bansuri.

Loosely translated... when the bamboo vanishes, so will the sound of the flute. We should have been fighting shoulder to shoulder to protect ecosystems and to ensure that forest dwellers become the filter, the FIRST beneficiaries of ALL outflows from the forest. Instead we have allowed ourselves to be divided and easily ruled by miners, politicians and others who are using forest rights as a red herring to access resources.

All those who champion forest rights in biodiverse areas today by quoting one of the most poorly drafted, impractical, regressive legislations in recent times (The Forest Rights Act), MUST ask themselves what rights will remain when the forest finally vanishes?

Instead of working together to incentivise the restoration of natural ecosystems with enhanced biodiversity and water flows as the guage for success, social activists are championing the right of forest dwellers to profit from the extirpation of biomass and minerals, which go to feed bottomless markets. I wish proponents of the FRA would scan the horizons of the country, for instance places such as Sonitpur in Assam, where the Forest Rights Act has fired the enthusiasm of all manner of people to hack down prime forests, to convert them to high value real estate and land holdings.

Its not too late, but I fear that both rich (the real destroyers of the forest) and poor (being turned intopartners in the destruction of forests) in India actually believe they can do without forests... so they squabble over rights, even as the forest itself vanishes like a wisp