LE Dialogue: Whither Communities? Recent Legal Changes Involving Forest Governance
The Learning Exchange Day 1 concluded with a dialogue on policy trends concerning national resources like forests, biodiversity, wildlife, the environment, and land development. The dialogue was conducted from the standpoint of forest-dwelling communities. The experts were from the fields of law, journalism, academia, and civil society. They shared their rich insights from their diverse experiences in assessing the ever-changing policy landscape.
Forests are shared spaces not only between humans but between humans and wildlife too. Conflict becomes inevitable owing to mining and development pressures. Several laws have been created to resolve this tension, but laws exist for both protection and extraction. Laws for the national and local economy are often contradictory. The source of conflict, however, is in the conservation philosophy. Conservation and coexistence are possible. There have been many successful cases across India. For instance, a rise in tiger populations was observed in many places, including tiger reserves where FRA (2006) was implemented. This signifies that legally decentralised governance can successfully contribute to wildlife conservation.
FRA (2006) is not a complicated Act. The cornerstones of this law are Sections 5(c) and 5(d), state that Gram Sabha can rightfully stop any activity that is detrimental to the local ecosystem. The Act guarantees that the decision of the Gram Sabha must be complied with. Despite such empowering provisions in the Act, Gram Sabha cannot be strengthened without institutional support. Consistent administrative and political support is required for its successful implementation. It is the responsibility of the government to integrate its schemes with title holders. There are examples from different states that exhibit empowered and CFR-recognized Gram Sabhas collaborating with the forest administration to conserve, protect, manage, and augment livelihoods. This aspect of coexistence is instrumental if we aim to increase forest cover and arrest emigration from rural areas to overpopulated urban cities.
The concepts of environmental justice and climate justice have been accepted and progressively advanced in the last decade. Plantation activities have also increased manifold owing to schemes and programs like CAMPA, the Green India Mission, and several other national and state level government initiatives. The purpose of all plantation schemes is not the same. Some plantations are for the exclusive purpose of enhancing local livelihoods, while others are for compensatory afforestation, which might not always contribute to the community’s interests. In the future, carbon sequestration and climate action programmes are expected to bring a new dimension to these greening initiatives. Although any afforestation scheme is projected as a win-win as it helps bridge the gap between the government and people.
- Rahul Chowdhary, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment
- Ishan Kukreti, Independent Journalist
- Meetu Gupta, Member, Chhattisgarh State Wildlife Board
- Geetanjoy Sahu, Tata Institute of Social Sciences