The PESA and the FRA are acts that can empower people of the forests to lead dignified lives and generate livelihood. Improper implementation and dearth of democratic exercise need to be evaluated for meaningful utilization of forest resource and empowerment of people.
Abhay Dubey is a writer and associated with environmental movements.
The government in a country like India should be seriously concerned with the protection of forests. The forests provide not only a source of living to thousands of people but also help the economy and generate various kinds of livelihoods.
The importance of forests also lies in the idea that forests are the fundamental source of identity for many cultural tribes that derive their origin from the forest. The forest is thus a resource that should be protected not just for its environmental contribution and should be seen as fundamental to the identities, livelihoods and source of living for many people across the nation.
Forests have a special place in the history of the nation, in its folklore and culture, songs and rituals. Several social movements have also been organised relating to issue about forests. So the forest is not just an ecological concern, it is part of the tradition, culture, history and identity of the people of the nation. When the nation brings forward a new National Forest Policy, it is significant that it is widely deliberated on. Is the new policy in tune with the requirements of the forests and will it enable the people dependent on the forests to lead a better life?
The National forest Policy states “low quality and low productivity of our natural forests, impacts of climate change, human-wildlife conflict, intensifying water crisis, increasing air and water pollution and deteriorating environment have been the issues of serious concern. There is a need to revise the National Forest Policy 1988 in order to integrate the vision of sustainable forest management by incorporating elements of ecosystem security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, forest hydrology, participatory forest management, … while building on our rich cultural heritage of co-existence and relying on our rich and diverse forest resources.” (Draft National Forest Policy,2018)
It is important to acknowledge the idea that the points stated above are of immense significance and are ideals that deserve attention.
Our country has been participating in International Conferences and Summits that claim to protect the ecology.
It is significant to ask whether these ideas are implemented in reality. Many legislation’s such as the Panchayat Extension for Scheduled Areas Act 1996(PESA), and the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) have been initiated.
These acts should enable the forests and people who depend on forests to lead better lives. Ironically non community/commercial interests have been safeguarded by the state and the requirements of the people have been marginalised.
Coal Mining in Chhattisgarh, Bauxite mining in Orissa and construction of dams in Uttarakhand are illustrations of this fact.
The forest people in many states of the country are finding it difficult to live and enable their livelihoods to be viable when the nation-state is indifferent.
The PESA Act has not been implemented in full swing in many states and the status of the Gram Panchayat is being denied to claim that these can be called Nagar Panchayats so that PESA stands defeated.
The FRA also requires serious attention as it has the capacity to generate work for forest people and conserve ecology also. Many states are having difficult issues in implementing these acts because forest areas are being used for different purposes.
It is paradoxical that people whose livelihoods are centred on forests are not consulted when legislation is implemented regarding forest. Acts like PESA and FRA can enable people to generate livelihoods and conserve the ecology, but a democracy like ours does not empower people to do this. The neo-liberal market oriented actions of the government, corporate and market led initiatives and the negligence of the state to enable communities to sustain themselves has brought forward disharmony among forest people. It is important that the government is eager to construct ecologically viable and people centric measures that make a democratic nation like ours truly vibrant.