Earlier this year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments.
The Hindu reports that the draft policy, a review and revision of existing forest policy, was prepared by the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management which proposed that: “Voluntary and attractive relocation packages of villages from within national parks, other wildlife rich areas and corridors should be developed.” The proposal to relocate/evict people from the vaguely described “other wildlife rich areas” and “corridors” as well as National Parks and Tiger Reserves would cover a huge area affecting millions of tribal people who have been dependent on and managed their environments for millennia.
Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, says that tribal peoples are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands across India in the name of conservation. Most so-called “voluntary relocations” are far from voluntary, says Survival, with tribal people often given no choice – they face arrest and beatings, harassment, threats and trickery and feel forced to “agree” to leave their forest homes.
CHS co-founder, the late Winin Pereira, lived for periods in an adivasi (tribal) area, learning from their traditional knowledge and culture. He became aware of a whole system of village self-reliance in which the resources of their forests, pastures and wetlands were sparingly used to meet the needs of the local people from time immemorial, see a reference from his book Tending the Earth.
He would have agreed that evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else. In the Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple (BRT) Wildlife Sanctuary tiger reserve in southern India (above)where tribal people have been allowed to stay, tiger numbers have increased at above the national average. There is no reason to believe that evicting tribes helps tigers. In fact, it is harming conservation.
However, a few days later the “policy” was removed, and a statement was issued claiming that the document was merely a study by the Indian Institute of Forest Management, which had been “inadvertently uploaded.” But Indian news website Live Mint quoted an anonymous ministry official: “[The] U-turn came after intense criticism of the draft policy from civil society.”
An agency reporter notes that the speedy withdrawal of this “draft policy” has been welcomed, but adds that concern remains at what lies ahead for the tens of millions of India’s tribal people and others who live in forests.