A note based on press conference held by the State Chapter of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), Odisha, which fought for the enactment of historic Forest Rights Act, 2006:
Outrightly rejecting the draft National Forest Policy (NFP), 2018 of the BJP led NDA Government at the center, CSD members said that the draft NFP 2018 subverts and undermines the Forest Rights Act, 2006 which is considered to be a historic legislation securing “Azadi” of tribal and forest dwellers by replacing an unjust and undemocratic British colonial system of forest management to a democratic, people centric forest governance.”
The Role of Gram Sabha and forest rights holders in protection and management of forest has been sidelined in the draft forest policy in violation of FRA and PESA “the very intention of the policy is devoted to promote privitisation of forests through PPP mode and plantation by private companies in the forest areas and giving forest officials more power as if forest dwellers’ rights don’t exist”, CSD, Odisha, State convenor, Gopinath Majhi said.
Raising concern over the serious loopholes in the daft NFP, CSD asserted that “The draft National Forest Policy in principle and explicitly assumes ‘forest’ to be a commercial entity in contrast to an ecological entity by promoting industrial monocultural plantations (Eucalyptus, Teak etc). It tends to serve the interests of corporates rather than conservation of forest eco-system and the lakhs of forest dwelling community.”
It is unfortunate that the daft National Forest Policy, 2018 in its preamble missed the constitution mandates and major changes brought under laws on forest, its protection and management i.e. the enactment of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 (PESA) and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (FRA).
Targeting the proposed “participatory forest management” through Joint Forest Management(JFM) in the draft NFP, CSD asserted that “while FRA creates immense possibilities for democratic forest conservation and ecological restoration to meet India’s constitutional goals, 33% forest coverage of land and international climate commitments by authorizing the lowest unit of democracy, the village council(Gram Sabha) under Section 3(1)(i) discarding Forest Dept. in forest protection and management, on the contrary, the draft NFP wants to revert forest bureaucracy supremacy through illegal Joint Forest Management (JFM).
CSD has also shared the serious concerns raised over the draft NFP by many environmentalists, ecologists, social scientists and wildlife conservationists in a recently orgainised meeting by it on 10th April in the State.
Citing the series of attacks on the Forest Rights Act, by the present BJP led NDA Government at the center, CSD pointed out that “the Central government’s apathy is not surprising if one follows what has happened after coming up this Government, into power, i.e,
a) Dilution of FRA and the provision for consent of Gram Sabhas for diversion of forest land through executive orders issued by MoEF,
b) Guidelines released by MoEF proposing privitisation of forests in 2015,
c) Notificatication of Village forest Rules in Maharashtra and M.P under the colonial Indian Forest Act 1927 undermining CFR rights,
d) Enactment of Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016 which violates FRA,
e) Guidelines issued by MoEF in November 2017 proposing to create Land Banks in revenue forests and degraded forests (on which forest dwellers have traditional rights) in violation of FRA,
f) NTCA Order barring conferment of rights in tiger reserves, Critical Wildlife GuidelinesJan 2018 etc.
The Forest Rights Act has always faced strong resistance from the forest bureaucracy. Using the privileges and powers they were granted by colonial laws — India’s main forest law, the Indian Forest Act, has remained unchanged since 1927-these officials control 23% of the country’s land area and our most valuable natural resources. It isn’t surprising that they do not favour a law that provides rights to communities to manage, protect and use these vast areas, thereby undermining what has long been described as the “country’s biggest zamindar.”
Criticizing section 4.1.1(d) Strategy proposed by the MoEFCC in the draft NFP, CSD is of the view that leasing out the degraded forest areas and forest areas available with Forest Development Corporations and outside forests which in fact comes under Community Forest Resource(CFR) area of a village duly recognized under FRA to the private companies and corporate sector will lead to land grabbing and evictions of the tribal and forest dwellers and deprivation from their fundamental rights over forest and.” The Draft NFP promotes deforestation and destruction of Natural Ecology and Biodiversity.
“We believe these are all knee-jerk approach proposed in the draft NFP to increase canopy coverage which can never create ‘forests’ as it takes 100s of years to create a forest scientifically. Rare species of plants should never be propagated in alien and foreign ecosystems as the species need to be conserved in-situ because of varying geo-climatic conditions. Promoting a few varieties of timber trees (sal, teak etc.) can never replace the bio-diversity of the forest ecosystem and will rather destroy the sensitive balance.”
Interacting with the media, CSD members said that they are sending para/section wise critical observation note on the draft NFP to the MoEFCC within the stipulated 14th April informing why they our rightly reject it. Since most of the tribals and forest dwellers of the State are going to be affected by the draft NFP, CSD has called upon Government of Odisha to oppose this policy and also has called upon all the tribals and forest dwellers, like mined sangathans and individuals of the state to oppose the anti-tribal and anti-ecology draft NFP.