Historically in India, and across the world, mainstream conservation efforts often have been carried out largely using an exclusionary approach, which has come at a considerable cost to the land rights and livelihoods of the most marginalized and voiceless people.
More recently, there has been widespread recognition of both the injustice of such an approach, and that tribal people and other forest-dwellers can be and are natural allies in conservation.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (also known as the Forest Rights Act or FRA) is an attempt to right these historical wrongs and to also recognize the role of India’s Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) in conservation.
Across India and globally, there are many examples of the benefits of and value in community based forest governance and an inclusive approach in conservation.
For these reasons, NCF supports the FRA and believes that attempts to remove or dilute it are both morally wrong and detrimental to conservation. The misgivings on wrongful claims and misuse of the FRA need to be addressed with adequate safeguards and vigilance but these apprehensions should not result in questioning the validity of the Act or to use it as an instrument for eviction of tribals and forest dwelling people in the name of conservation.
We believe that the recent Supreme Court order is likely to adversely affect a large number of people with genuine claims but whose claims currently stand rejected. Apart from devastating their lives, it is likely that the order will ultimately prove highly detrimental to conservation in India by further alienating potential allies and by strengthening the false notion that conservation can be carried out only by excluding forest-dwelling peoples.
We believe that conservation ought to be carried out in an inclusive and just manner, and that there are many successful examples of such approaches both in India and elsewhere in the world. An approach that embraces the rights of marginalized forest peoples and works with them as partners and allies is the kind of conservation we can and should pursue as a country.
In our view, the FRA must be implemented in the true spirit that it is intended, and we stand for the rights of the forest-dwelling peoples in India and elsewhere in the world.