Monday, June 20, 2005
Give the forests back
In an excellent oped in the Indian Express, Parth Shah writes:
Tigers versus Tribals: this is how the debate on the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, has been framed. If you are for tigers, you shouldn’t recognise forest rights of tribals. And if you are for tribals, then it ipso facto means that tigers are not important to you. This is a completely false dichotomy.Shah elaborates on how it is ecologically sensible to have the original forest dwellers, who have a stake in the forests, to be its caretakers. And there is also an ethical case for it. Shah writes:
It is precisely to protect tigers (and trees) that we must take back our forests from the forest department and put them in the stewardship of forest dwellers.
[I]t must be remembered that local communities have a prior claim — a moral claim — on these resources. They have been using these resources for generations and centuries. It is on the premise of prior use that the ownership of resources has been settled in any civilised society. The privately-owned land today was at some point in time a forest. Some people cleared those forests for agricultural, residential or commercial use, and they received property titles to the cleared land. But some did not clear the forests and continued to lived in them. These forest dwellers are now refused the same process of land titling that we enjoyed. The people who kept the forests intact are being penalised for not clear-cutting them in the past as we did. It is a gross injustice not to recognise the rights of forest dwellers.Dead right. But catch the government giving anything back.