Last week, the Ministry of Environment and Forests uploaded a “draft National Forest Policy” and invited comments in two weeks.
Then, they decided it was not a draft at all, but just a “study”. This is odd, considering that the document is titled “National Forest Policy (Draft).”
And, on top of this, this policy that is not a policy directly incites State Forest Departments to violate the single most important forest law passed since independence – the Forest Rights Act of 2006 – by supporting their disastrous Joint Forest Management policies and rechristening it “community forest management.” This when, as per international studies, almost half the forest land in the country actually belongs to communities as per law. Just to add insult to injury, the policy does not even contain the words “forest rights” and does not have a single reference to the law.
Nothing unusual for this Ministry. Consider what it has done in the last two years:
- Framed a bill (the CAMPA Bill) for granting tens of thousands of crores to State Forest Departments for “planting trees in forests” – without a single word about the legal rights of those who use and live in those forests. In other words, an invitation to use these funds to grab lands and take over forests over which forest dwellers have statutory management rights under the law.
- Issued guidelines for allowing private companies to illegally take over forest lands and plant commercial plantations on them – while criminally preventing local communities from exercising their rights in those areas. Those guidelines too were, surprise surprise, never actually made public by the Ministry, and had to be exposed by a reporter.
- Illegally backed the passage of “village forest rules” by the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh government – against the opinion of the NDA’s own Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- Diverted huge areas of forest land for corporate projects while constantly violating – and sabotaging – the requirements for forest dwellers’ consent and prior recognition of rights contained in the law.
The single consistent theme is – act as if the Environment Ministry and forest officials are above the law, ignore local communities, and treat them as if they are animals with no legal rights. Then empower your bureaucrats with sweeping, illegal powers and massive funds, while handing out the country’s resources to corporates. Call this “reforms” and “transparency” while making sure unaccountable bureaucrats can seize natural resources for their own and corporates’ benefit – even at the cost of endangering the country’s entire financial system.
The final irony? A “nationalist” ruling party obsessed with accusing others of being “anti-national” – while systematically seeking to restore the colonial system of forest management and the colonial law on land acquisition.
A crusade in which the Environment Ministry is leading from the front.
Campaign for Survival and Dignity http://www.forestrightsact.com