The Politicisation of Forest India

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

People who claim that people and animals can co-exist should wake up and smell the forest. It's burning.

Yes it is possible for dense wildlife populations to live with very thin human populations. Yes it is possible for dense human populations to live with very thin wildlife populations (not the large carnivore variety). But the recent trend of social activists to suggest that tiger reserves be turned into raw material sources for markets, with forest dwellers harvest, transporting and supplying all manner of goods from tendu patta and mahua flower to bamboo, sand and stones to urban middle men, is just plain suicidal. This is neither going to enrich any forest dwellers nor benefit wild species, which will just vanish, as they have been vanishing from every human dominated landscape in the past 50 years.

Neverthless, this much is true. The rural constituency is vital to the future of wildlife. And forest dwellers living OUTSIDE our protected area network should be the first beneficiaries of all economic inflows and outflows. But this should be for livelihoods that enhance the ecosystem, not deplete it. Sanctuary has been trying for some time to communicate this concern with those who champion the Forest Rights Act, but with little success.

The truth is that villages next to wildlife areas do bear the brunt of conservation costs, yet no policy offers them sustenance for saving wildlife, only for exploiting bamboo, or tubers, or tendu patta etc., which is a lose-lose proposition and has never enriched anyone but the tendu barons, or the timber mafia, or the stone and sand mafia.

Yet social activists, who are otherwise decent and honest, seem unwilling to accept the fact that turning forest dwellers into conduits for unlimited urban demand condemns them to the loss of their resource base and a life of permanent serfdom. This is why the Prime Minister's Office and the National Advisory Council keeps coming up with more and more populist schemes (the latest being permission to harvest bamboo from forest that the tiger needs) at the cost of our ecological security.

Meanwhile as this politicisation of forests continues apace, social activists continue to bask in the belief that it is their 'power and brilliance' that is helping them win the day against the 'wildlife wallahs'.