Today, October 2nd, the Environment Minister – Dr. Harsh Vardhan – is hosting the Global Wildlife Programme, while claiming that his government “is playing a leadership role in management of wildlife through involvement of local communities.”
But Dr. Vardhan’s statement is completely false. In reality, the government has been systematically and criminally violating the rights of millions of people, putting them at risk of harassment, eviction and being killed in the name of “wildlife conservation.” This began under the UPA government and has been converted into wholesale, systematic sabotage by the BJP at the Centre.
- On March 28th, the National Tiger Conservation Authority issued a completely illegal direction that barred recognition of any of the legal rights of forest dwellers in tiger reserves under the Forest Rights Act. This deprived lakhs of people of the protection of law.
- This government passed a law in the name of “compensatory afforestation” that completely ignored the legal rights of forest dwellers and threatens them with wholesale loss of their common and individual lands. Till date it has not fulfilled any of its promises to ensure this fund respects people’s rights, even after hundreds of villages wrote to the government in protest
- In BJP-ruled State after State, State governments have framed “village forest rules” that directly violate the FRA. The Centre tried to do the same with a draft “National Forest Policy” that ignored the forest rights issue entirely.
- Illegal grabbing of forest dwellers’ lands, both for corporate projects like mining and in the name of wildlife conservation, has continued across India.
- In the budget this year (2017), the government effectively shut down the program of providing minimum support price for non-timber forest produce – one of the most crucial sources of livelihood for forest dwellers.
- Despite the FRA permitting relocation from critical wildlife habitats only where coexistence can lead to irreversible damage and only with the informed consent of communities, under Central urging, many states have initiated wholesale relocation in total violation of the law, often using CAMPA funds.
- The situation had become so dire in India that, in October last year, some of India’s top conservation scientists and forty of the world’s leading conservation groups warned that the government “may be acting in ways that are not in consonance with [the] law” and that “disregarding the Forest Rights Act or undermining it will greatly damage environmental protection in the country.”
And these are just a few examples.
If this is the government showing “leadership”, then we can only hope that it shows less of this kind of “leadership” and starts showing more respect for the law and for the basic rights of the tribals and forest dwellers of this country.
On behalf of the Convening Collective
Campaign for Survival and Dignity