Government departments and officials have to acknowledge that forests and tribals are inter-dependent and that sustainable development is not possible without involving tribals, said Professor SB Roy, Founder Chairman of the Indian Institute of Bio-Social Research and Development’s (IBRAD), retired IAS officer NC Saxena and Prof Biswajit Dhar of JNU. They were in conversation with TNIE’s Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla and senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai at E-Expressions, a series of live webcasts with prominent people.
“The tribal department should understand if there is no sustainable management of the forest, if the tribals do not understand the Acts, the development will not be there. There needs to be periodical monitoring of biodiversity, livelihood and sustainability,” Prof Roy said.
Speaking about lack of proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act and other similar laws, he said, “…There is a need for a consolidated effort to view the forest and the tribe as integrated and interdependent bodies. The operational plan is not very clear and each one (ministry) is beating their own drum, thus there is no harmony… In some places, FRA has been implemented very well, like Odisha, some parts of Chhattisgarh and Karnataka — we have to take lessons from these places and understand the factors of success.”
Speaking about the Biodiversity Act, Professor Dhar said, “It talks about conserving and sustainably using all the biological resources… It talks about empowering the local communities, gives the powers to manage the resources and have certain control of the usage. It’s a bottom-up approach. At the local level, there are biodiversity committees that have statutory powers... They are supposed to be set up at local level but it is not defined as whether it’s village or block.
They are supposed to take stock of the resources available in the region and also the local jurisdiction knowledge. Until recently, these have not been established.” Dhar said the AYUSH and the Biodiversity ministries are calling the shots as far as biodiversity management is concerned. “There is a huge effort being made to dilute the Biodiversity Act. It’s all in the name of facilitating bioresources, while ignoring the resources of the local community.”
Talking about the rights of tribals to use and manage forest land, Saxena said it’s not a recent problem. “There has been historical injustice to the adivasis…Efforts have been made a few times to correct this… Looking at the non-implementation and policies that we have, we wanted to give power to the gram sabhas in a new law, who are occupying forest lands for generations.
They help in management, protection and thus community rights should be given to them. We got it passed by the Rajya Sabha. But when it went to the cabinet it diluted the law,” he explained. the Rajya Sabha. But when it went to the cabinet it diluted the law,” he explained. Dhar said local communities have to be “given the rights they deserve and forest officials have to be told that they are supposed to be working for the local communities.