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Draft forest policy to "help" India's industry interests, "empower" forest bureaucracy, "undermine" Adivasi rights

By Our Representative
Civil society across India has opposed the draft National Forest Policy (NFP), 2018, calling it anti-Adivasi and forest dwellers, as also anti-ecology, especially objecting to explicitly assuming that 'forests' are a commercial entity in contrast to an ecological entity, even as seeking to promote industrial monoculture plantations such as eucalyptus and teak.
While Gujarat’s top farmers’ organization Khedut Samaj insists, it does not seek to give Adivasis in the right to manage and plan forests; rather they are considered as “beneficiaries”, which is “blatantly unjust and unfair”, the Odisha chapter of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), in the forefront in the fight for the enactment of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in 2006, has said that the NFP “serves the interests of corporates rather than conservation of forest eco-system and the lakhs of forest dwelling community”.
In his representation to the MoEFCC, Khedut Samaj-Gujarat general secretary Sagar Rabari says, the NFP does not delineate the role of the forest department (FD), which is hugely problematic. “It needs to be spelt out clearly. It is also an opportune moment to reassess its relevance 70 years after independence from colonial rule.”
Terming the FD “a colonial creation for meeting the needs of colonial extraction of revenue”, Rabari says, “It runs much the same way even in drastically changed circumstances.”
Rabari notes, while examining “threats to forests”, NFP mention mentions “encroachments, illegal tree fellings, forests fires, invasive weeds, grazing”, but is shockingly quiet on “the most important threats to forests, industry and mining.”
Then, NFT talks of “economic valuation of forests”, by seeking to evolve “scientific methods” for “appropriate valuation of forests and their services through institutions of repute”, but, says Rabari, here, too, it is “silent on responsibility and culpability those who destroy forests.”
According to Rabari, destruction of natural mangroves because of the development of ports would surely destroy the coast and render the population there vulnerable to disasters, yet NFP fails to “fix responsibility for the calamity.”
He adds, “The entire Sagarmala project would ruin the coastline of India and the populations residing there. In light of this mangroves should be treated as sacrosanct and not be distributed at all.”
According to Rabari, NFT seeks to intensively market forests by coming up with the slogans “Wood Is Good” and “Grow more Wood, Use more Wood”, suggesting usage of wood products would promote forests. “This appears to be entirely concerned with the promotion of commercial forestry and revenue generation and has nothing to do with preservation and rejuvenation of forests”, he insists.
NFT, says Rabari, talks of the need to tap funds from national sectors like rural development, tribal affairs, national highways, railways, coal, mines, power, etc., “for appropriate implementation of linking greening with infrastructure and other development activities.”
“This appears to be a blatant and shame-faced attempt at surreptitiously diverting the compensatory afforestation funds towards corporate efforts to undertake afforestation”, he says, adding, what it would actually amount to is, “the money that came from the corporates will be given back to them.”
Then, NFP talks of “harmonization the policy with other policies and laws”, which, according to Rabari, is another name for “single window clearance” for corporates, as is done routinely to “attract big capital”.
In a related development, addressing media in Bhubaneswar, activists from CSD, which has submitted its memorandum to the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC), said all that the NFT does is to replace FRA with “unjust and undemocratic British colonial system of forest management.”
Odisha convener of CSD Gopinath Majhi said, “The Role of Gram Sabha and forest rights holders in protection and management of forest has been sidelined in violation of FRA and Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996. The very intention of the policy is devoted to promote privitisation of forests through public-private partnership (PPP) mode and plantation by private companies in the forest areas and giving forest officials more power as if forest dwellers’ rights don’t exist.”
Targeting the proposed “participatory forest management” through Joint Forest Management (JFM) in the draft NFP, Majhi asserted, “While FRA creates immense possibilities for democratic forest conservation and ecological restoration by authorizing the lowest unit of democracy, the village council (Gram Sabha), discarding the forest department’s role in forest protection and management, the draft NFP wants to revert the forest bureaucracy supremacy through illegal Joint Forest Management (JFM).”

Comments

Ashok Sharma said…
The very fact that the govt is revising the 1988 forest policy is an indication that it wants to favour the corporates through ppp model. The Gujarat model, that resisted PESA and FRA, is being replicated at national level now.

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