We were just finished with the ‘Ran raakhu, Bes raahu’ campaign and it was appreciated by our friends in the field of conservation and even by TRTI (the nodal agency of government of MH for implementation of FRA). The news of our campaign made some rounds on email lists. I received a phone call from a wildlife enthusiast from Mumbai. His opening question was: “Which side are you on? Are you pro-tribal rights or are you pro-environment? Your report does not make it clear.”
My answer was that ‘we don’t believe that such exclusive sides exist. In our opinion, there are two options: community conservation or no conservation. A person (or persons) living far from forests or far from nature cannot really protect nature – simply because he/they have the resources to be loud and vocal. It has to be those whose life thrives or suffers on the balance of nature.
When a very small section of the population claims to hold all rights to a natural resource, it basically holds ‘power’ and resists democracy. The struggle then is to control the resource, and not for being a benevolent saviour of Nature. The current political system in India has a colonial hang-over. It is highly centralised and largely bureaucratic. Democracy remains incomplete without decentralised governance of resources. Recognition of Forest Rights is quite a beginning of that.
To understand the problem of “Whose forests are they?” it may be good to quote Barry Commoner here:
“When any environmental issue is probed to its origins, it reveals an inescapable truth – that the root cause of the crisis is not to be found in how men interact with nature, but in how they interact with each other: that to solve the environmental crisis we must solve the problem of poverty, racial injustice and war; that the debt of nature which is the measure of the environmental crisis, cannot be paid, person by person, in recycled bottles or ecological sound habits, but in the ancient coin of social justice.”