A New Threat to Forest Dwellers and Protected Areas

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

Having cleared the destructive Chiria mines and the POSCO project in violation of the law, the Environment Ministry has proceeded to grossly violate people’s rights in protected areas – to the detriment of both people and wildlife. On February 8th, it issued new guidelines for the declaration of “critical wildlife habitats” under the Forest Rights Act. These guidelines are in direct violation of the Forest Rights Act and will encourage the kind of brutal forced relocation that harms people, increases conflict with wildlife and leads to more destruction in protected areas. Everyone from the Tiger Task Force through numerous conservationists themselves have pointed out the dangers in the current relocation process.

Once again, we see that the primary interest of this system is not in wildlife, forests, people or even “development”: it is retaining its own power.

The guidelines are in violation of law on the following counts (for a quick summary see table below):

  • Identification of CWHs: As is admitted by most wildlife organisations and by the government itself, existing national parks and sanctuaries have often been demarcated arbitrarily without consulting either the people of the area or scientists; as a result many are of limited wildlife significance. Therefore the FRA requires that a consultative and scientific process, “case by case, on the basis of scientific and objective criteria” (s. 2(b)) for identification of critical wildlife habitats should be undertaken in all existing protected areas. In order to ensure that this process is actually sound (and not arbitrary again), it should be done by an Expert Committee including experts from the locality and a Tribal Ministry representative. The new guidelines do not satisfy any of these requirements.
    • Scientific basis:The new guidelines say nothing about which “scientific and objective criteria” are to be used. They also ignore the requirement that critical wildlife habitats should only be established where it can be scientifically proven that the presence of forest dwellers is causing irreversible damage to wildlife and that co-existence is not possible. The only reference to any of this is a vague statement that studies on human impact should be carried out – but this is in Annexure 2, a list of points to be taken into account for financial planning, long after identification is over. Finally, the process of identification is to be carried out by the DFO and a “local scientific institution” in the space of a mere 60 days. The result can only be imagined – exactly as occurred in the case of critical tiger habitats, all existing protected areas will simply be sought to be converted into critical wildlife habitats, followed by pressurising people living inside them to relocate. The guidelines also sneak in the intent of extending CWHs to areas “in and around” protected areas (point 5.6.2) thereby leaving room to extend PA boundaries to larger areas. This is a total perversion of the intent of the law.
    • Consultation: On consultation, the guidelines are a farce. The identification of the habitat, as said above, will first be carried out by the DFO; whereupon the guidelines say there should be “extensive consultation” with forest dwellers by an Expert Committee. What will happen to the results of this “extensive consultation” and the comments of the people? Nothing. They are never referred to in the guidelines again. Thus this consultation process is actually non-existent.
    • No Expert Committee:Indeed, the role of the Expert Committee – which is to identify the critical wildlife habitat – has been reduced to “motivating” villagers for relocation, after the two technical members have on their own decided the area to be demarcated as a CWH. In sum, the guidelines reduce the process of identification to an administrative exercise controlled by the Forest Department.
  • Relocation: In addition to the scientific evidence of irreversible damage from people, the law requires that relocation from a critical wildlife habitat requires the free informed consent of the gram sabha (s. 4(2)(e)), must provide a secure livelihood (s. 4(2)(d)), and can only take place after rights are recognised (s.4(2)(a)), and facilities are complete (s. 4(2)(f)). Every one of these conditions is violated:
    • Consent of gram sabha: There is no reference in the guidelines to taking the consent of the gram sabha for relocation at any point, except when the section itself is quoted. Instead there is talk of relocating even if “a small number of families agree”, which by implication means that the majority do not do so – and hence the gram sabha could not have consented. This will open the way for individually pressurising families and pushing relocation step by step, once again in violation of the law.
    • Secure livelihood: The guidelines again say nothing about providing any livelihood at all, leave alone a secure one acceptable to the people. Instead, they say that two “options” will be offered (based on the Project Tiger package) – Rs. 10 lakhs per family or a vague reference to “rehabilitation by the Forest Department.” In fact, the law does nota allow such provision of mere cash compensation, as this is at the root of all the rehabilitation failures of the past. It is also a total violation of people’s rights, since they lose their livelihoods and access to the forest and only get a sum of cash – which itself often doesn’t reach them.
    • Completion of recognition of rights: Once again there is no reference to this except in Annexure 2, where it is irrelevant. Since rights are hardly being recognised in protected areas and the guideline imposes an absurd 60 day time limit, relocation will now proceed without bothering with people’s rights – making harassment and pressure on forest dwellers more likely.
    • Completion of facilities: This was intended to protect against hasty relocation without any facilities being provided. In the last year alone, two people have died (in Similipal in Orissa and Achanakmar in Chhattisgarh) after being forcibly relocated from tiger reserves and not provided any proper shelter.There is not a word about this requirement anywhere in the guideline.

Despite some weaknesses and internal inconsistencies, the October 2007 guidelines that this order replaces had covered all these issues. This new set of guidelines completely throws to wind the law and violates all the Act’s provisions on procedures of determining and notification of critical wildlife habitats. Indeed, relocating anyone on the basis of these guidelines would be in direct violation of the law; and hence a criminal offence under section 7 of the Act. Following this policy will only ensure the continuance of the earlier form of forced arbitrary relocation, harming both people and wildlife.

Summary of Violations of Law

Provision Requirement of Law What Guidelines Actually Do
s. 2(b) Decide wildlife habitats on basis of scientific and objective criteria No criteria specified; left to administrative fiat
s. 2(b) On a case by case basis Left to concerned DFO “in consultation” with “local scientific institution”
s. 2(b) Decide through a process of consultation by an Expert Committee Identification entirely by DFO and “local scientific institution”, without any consultation; role of Expert Committee is restricted to “sensitising” people to the relocation package after the proposal is sent to MoEF
s. 2(b) Recognition of rights and other pre-conditions to be met prior to any relocation (s.4(1) and 4(2)) Ignores and therefore violates both
s. 4(2)(a) Rights have to be recognised first Completely ignored except irrelevant reference in Annexure 2
s. 4(2)(b),(c) No relocation unless can be shown that human presence causing irreversible damage and co-existence not possible Completely ignored
s. 4(2)(d) Relocation must provide a secure livelihood Rs. 10 lakh compensation or vague “rehabilitation” mentioned; no reference to providing a livelihood
s. 4(2)(e) Free informed consent of the gram sabha to be taken in writing Ignored; no procedure stated, implicitly refers to consent of individual families
s. 4(2)(f) No relocation until facilities at new site (by implication including livelihood) are complete Completely ignored

In sum, every provision of the law has been violated.

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