‘Assessment Report on the Sustainable Use of Wild Species’ is the result of a long research by about 300 social and natural scientists from across the world. The study points out that billions of people worldwide rely on about 50,000 wild species for food, energy, medicine and income. 33,000 species are plants and fungi; 7,500 are fish and aquatic creatures; and 9,000 are amphibians, insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. About 10,000 species are used directly for human food. All these facts underscore the importance of wild life and the necessity for its sustainable use.
The tribal people of India have always had their own traditional ways for preserving the forests and wild life. They have always been aware of the simple truth that forests are not fragile entities to be conserved through patronage from above. Forests are life itself. Caring for them is not a strategical and legal affair. You can’t preserve the forests merely by making certain laws as we can understand easily by looking at what has happened (and is happening now) in India. Caring for forests is an intuitive and holistic process as always understood by the tribal people who lived in harmony with forests.
The present government of India is selling the country’s forests to the corporate sector in the name of development. The Modi government cocks a snook at the world’s efforts to implement practices of sustainable living and sustainable use of resources including wild life. The Forest Conservation Rules of 2022 are totally against the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UNO. According to this new set of regulations, the union government may permit the clearance of a forest without first informing its residents. This is diametrically opposed to the earlier provision that the local people and grama sabhas would be consulted first before any forestland is taken over for development purposes.
Now, with the new regulation put in place by the Modi government, the Centre, without consulting the state governments and the people affected, can hand over forestlands to the corporate sector. The earlier regulation – The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006 – was a historic and progressive law which conferred land and livelihood rights to Adivasi, Dalit and other families living in forest areas. The new regulation makes it all too easy for the corporate sector to invade India’s forests armed with a simple signature from the Union government.
We know who are going to benefit from this new regulation when we remember that large forest areas of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have been taken over for mining by the Vedanta group which is notorious for environmentally hazardous activities.
What the latest regulation does is to dispossess hundreds of thousands of forest dwellers from their lands or make them squatters on their own lands. As Arundhati Roy wrote many years ago in a different context, “Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people, refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it's time to worry.”
Now, by elevating a tribal woman as the President of India – a first of the kind – the Modi government is talking of tribal welfare and we need to worry really. One hope is that Ms Droupadi Murmu is a woman who refused to sign the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act proposed by the BJP government when she was the governor of Jharkhand. True, she stood by the tribal people more out of political expediency than principles. Nevertheless, she showed the courage to stand against her own party’s policies. Let us hope she won’t be as docile and pliable a President as her predecessor was. Let us hope that at least the tribal people of India will get their due with her actions and initiatives. Let us hope that sustainable use of the wildlife will get a boost under her leadership.
As responsible citizens, each one of us should gather the courage to protest certain regulations of the government if they go against the interests of the country and its potential for sustainable living.
PS. This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter.