In January of this year an application was filed in the Supreme Court in an ongoing case (Wildlife First and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors.) that seeks to have the Forest Rights Act declared unconstitutional. In their most recent application, the petitioners – Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First, Kishor Rithe of NCS and Harshvardhan Dhanvatey of TRACT – seek to further restrict the operation of the Act in the name of ‘conservation’ concerns.
Below is an open letter jointly issued by several conservation NGOs, movements for democratic forest control and experts in conservation biology, against this application and the petition itself. It demonstrates how few people, including in the conservationist community itself, agree with these notions and how dangerous they actually are. We request that others who are interested also add their names to the joint statement. Please contact us to do so.
The prayers of the interim application and a point by point rebuttal by the Campaign for Survival and Dignity will be sent later today. Press queries on the petition can be addressed to us (9873657844, firstname.lastname@example.org) or to any of the signatories. The recipients can be reached at: Praveen Bharghav (email@example.com), Kishor Rithe (firstname.lastname@example.org), or TRACT (email@example.com).
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
JOINT OPEN LETTER TO ANTI-FRA PETITIONERS IN SUPREME COURT
Dear Wildlife First, NCS and TRACT,
We recently came to know that in January, you filed an interim application in the Supreme Court seeking, among other things, to have an ‘expert’ committee of the CAG re-examine all rights under the Forest Rights Act; to make it possible to resettle people from PAs without recognising their rights first; to bar sale of non-timber forest produce from PAs; etc. After so many years, when at last people are receiving rights historically denied to them due to the prevalent forest and PA policies, you seek to turn the clock back. These very same policies, as you know very well, have created complex challenges for conservation itself by creating enclosures and opening them up at will.
We are shocked that you would file a petition like this at a time when the Central government is seeking to accelerate clearances and industry is piling on pressure to make forest, biodiversity and resource destruction easier. You would surely be aware that across the country a significant force that has stopped this resource loot is local communities fighting to protect their natural resources and habitats, often by using the FRA. Your petition seeks to gravely undermine one of their primary weapons.
We understand that you have concerns regarding the implementation of the FRA, but these can be debated separately. An expensive, long and dangerous court battle – fraught with the risk of being hijacked by government bureaucracies and corporate front groups – is not the way to address them. This would put at risk many community and other conservation initiatives that have existed and have been strengthened by the FRA. Indeed, there are many examples from the states where FRA has been effectively used by local communities/gram sabhas to strengthen protection and management of forests, as in the case of Niyamgiri, Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, and protected areas such as the BRT Hills. The prospects for conservation under FRA need to be appreciated by conservation groups and organizations.
In light of this we call upon you to withdraw your writ petition against the FRA and this interim application. Please consider the implications of your actions for conservation itself. Your petition is likely to facilitate the accelerated loot of this country’s natural resources.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group
Vidharbha Nature Conservation Society
All India Forum of Forest Movements
All India Union of Forest Working People
Vivekananda Girijana Kalyan Kendra, BRT Hills
Mahan Sangharsh Samiti
Indian Community Activists Network
Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development
Nitin Rai, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment
Kartik Shanker, Associate Professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences
Dr. MD Madhusudan, Nature Conservation Foundation
C. Made Gowda, Soliga Abhivrudhi Sangha, BRT Hills
Dr. Kundan Kumar, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto
Dr. K.H. Amitha Bachan, Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation
Dr. Bhaskar Vira, University of Cambridge
Purnima, KHOJ, Melghat
Dr. Vena Kapoor, Nature Conservation Foundation
Anush Shetty, Nature Conservation Foundation
Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon, Independent Researchers
Anand Shrivastava, PhD programme, University of Cambridge
Prasant Mohanty, NIRMAN, Orissa
Dr. Susamma Isac, Research Officer, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Siddharth Singh Negi, Uttaranchal Youth and Rural Development Centre, Uttarakhand
Dr. Sharachchandra Lele, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment