What cities gotta do for forests

Working for people living in forests was a passion of Vayam’s founder group. We had worked in forest villages and had an intimate bond with the people there. Vayam’s work naturally began in forest villages. Youth groups were formed in villages and we started mobilising the communities for conservation and sustainable management of forests. Once I introduced some visiting friends from Pune to a local tribal volunteer. I told him, “this sister works for Vayam in Pune”. After a formal smile and namaskar, my tribal friend whispered, “what exactly does she do for Vayam sitting in Pune city?” The same question was in our minds as well. What purpose, what reason had our city volunteers in working with Vayam? How were they to be a part of this movement for ‘inclusive development’? Were they to be benefactors or philanthropists? Neither! The big cities, the people living there, and the huge economy that they are atoms of – has a big role in conserving our forests and rivers. It is not in donating or orally supporting conservation drives or in supporting evictions of poor people depending on forest for their subsistence. It is something much difficult and more vital than this. The “demand” of urban consumer comes out of his pocket or from his purchasing power and has nothing to do with the sustainable limits of consuming a resource. I have seen people throwing away half-filled glasses of water, because they can ‘afford’ it. This sense of ‘affording’ is a gift of money. This has nothing to do with how much water is available in the reservoir that supplies water to the city. Same goes with forest products. Very soon, White House may import water from moon!! Similarly cities can go on cosuming water; and more dams can be built simply by sinking villages and shriking forests. Consumption without responsibility is a big threat to biodiversity and forest cover in our country. I quote: “Modern economic processes have subjected the traditional economies to the requirements of production and consumption of distant places and populations, hence breaking the fragile balance between supply and demand. Urban and industrial consumers’ demand (national and international) has no relationship with the carrying capacity of forests and no societal control, as it is independent of the ecosystems which are harvested to satisfy it.” (Arvind Khare, Communities & Conservation, ed. Kothari, Pathak, Taneja, Sage publications 1998) (emphasis mine) Khare mentions “absence of societal control”. Tribal communities had institutions for societal control, because the survival of community depended on sustaining forests. Even now these communities have the potential of reviving societal controls on forest use. But what about our people in cities? Vayam in cities has the job of answering this.

– Milind

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