Saturday, December 16, 2006

Forest dwellers empowered

A bill that for the first time grants indigenous forest-dwelling communities the right to live in the forests was passed in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India's parliament) yesterday.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill was passed with all the three major amendments suggested by the left parties.

“Forests and forest-dwelling people are inseparable. One cannot survive without the other,” minister P.R. Kyndiah said.

“There is a recognition of the fact that forests have the best chance to survive if communities participate in their conservation and regeneration. Insecurity of tenure and fear of eviction are the biggest reasons for Adivasis feeling alienated from forests.”

The bill grants the right to live in the forest, the right to access, use or dispose minor forest produce, the right to entitlement, such as grazing and traditional seasonal resource access, and the right to protect, regenerate, conserve or manage any community forest resource that was traditionally protected and conserved.

First tabled in December 2005, the bill was sent to a joint parliamentary committee to sort out differences. For a year, the pro-forest dweller advocates within and outside parliament fought with environmentalists who claimed the bill would jeopardise the forests and tigers.

Originally, 1980 was to be the cut-off year, which meant that those who had come to reside in forests after that year could be evicted under the law. This has now been changed to December 2005, when the bill was tabled in the House.

The govt initially wanted to restrict the bill to Adivasis (indigenous communities), but there was a demand that it should cover other forest dwellers as well. The government finally accepted this.

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