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Conservationists Speak Out Against Evictions, Say This Is Not Pro-Conservation

Please find below a joint statement by some of India’s and the world’s most experienced conservationists and conservation biologists on the recent Supreme Court order.  More than three hundred signatories have signed, representing organisations, universities and institutions around the world.  Contrary to the notion that this order is somehow a pro-wildlife measure, they say

“We do not regard this order as pro-conservation. On the contrary, it is a real setback for conservation in India.”

Signatures continue to come in and we will update this post as they do. Other joint efforts by conservationists to respond to this situation are also underway.

STATEMENT FROM CONSERVATIONISTS ON SUPREME COURT ORDER

As conservationists and environmentalists, we are dismayed by the Supreme Court’s order of February 13th, 2019 to evict claimants under the Forest Rights Act whose claims have been rejected. This order came in a case filed by (among others) a group of wildlife organisations.

We do not regard this order as pro-conservation. On the contrary, it is a real setback for conservation in India. Forest dwellers have for centuries used and managed these forests that we are now considering to be valuable for conservation. The rights of local communities are an integral part of any sustainable and just model of conservation, as is now recognised in international law. Furthermore, the Forest Rights Act not only recognises these rights, it also legally empowers communities to protect their forests and wildlife as well.  It is the first and only law in India that gives those who live in and with forests the power to protect them. Since it was notified into force in 2008, the FRA has been a key weapon in the hands of communities across India, from Niyamgiri to North Bengal to Uttarakhand to Maharashtra, who seek to protect forests and defend themselves against corporate and government resource grabbing.

We do not agree with the claim of the petitioners in this case that their positions represent the interests of conservation. We do not agree with their claim that only “bogus claimants” will be affected by this recent order.  We find it particularly ironic that they went to court claiming that the procedures under this Act are ‘arbitrary’, and are now seeking to say that those same procedures are so effective and sacrosanct that millions of people should be evicted on the basis of their results.

It is incredibly difficult for local communities, who have long been oppressed, to secure their rights. We believe that those interested in conservation should be working to strengthen the transparency, community and democratic potential that the FRA creates – not seeking to attack forest dwellers or the law.

We reiterate the call of an open letter in 2014 to the petitioners that they should withdraw this case.  We join forest people’s organisations in calling upon the Central and State governments to seek the reversal of this unjust order, not least because it will cause immense harm to conservation.

Sincerely,

You can see an updated list of the signatories – now more than 300 in number – by clicking here.

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