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India's New Reforestation Law Ignores Indigenous People, Analysts Say

  • Reuters

An Indian Mishing tribal man carries grass for his cattle on a boat surrounded by flood waters at Majuli, a river island east of Gauhati, northeastern Assam state, India on July 27, 2016. The members of this indigenous community live in huts raised on poles in this area frequented by floods.

An Indian Mishing tribal man carries grass for his cattle on a boat surrounded by flood waters at Majuli, a river island east of Gauhati, northeastern Assam state, India on July 27, 2016. The members of this indigenous community live in huts raised on poles in this area frequented by floods.

A new Indian law to boost reforestation across the country ignores the importance of indigenous people in conserving land and tramples on their rights, analysts and activists said.

India's upper house of parliament passed a bill late on Thursday that would give state governments more than 60 billion rupees ($895 million) a year to conserve and protect forests and wildlife.

"It is a good bill," Minister of State of Environment Anil Madhav Dave said in a statement, adding that the new law would help to focus reforestation efforts in a concerted way.

Most of the funds under the Compensatory Afforestation, Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) law would be used to restock denuded forests, Dave said.

The law would also help to create employment, especially in poor regions and areas that are traditionally home to indigenous communities, he said.

However, critics of the law said the money would be better spent on helping local communities who are already engaged in conserving their habitats.

"Evidence from around the world shows that farmers and local communities are far more efficient and effective at protecting landscapes as compared to centralized bureaucracies", said Neera Singh, an environmental justice expert and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, in the Indian Express newspaper.

Analysts said the CAMPA bill ignores the landmark 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) that aims to improve the lives of impoverished tribes by recognizing their right to inhabit and live off forests where their forefathers settled.

Under the FRA, forest dwellers cannot be removed from their land without consent of village councils, which are made up of local residents.

Under the CAMPA bill however, authority to earmark land for development and assign compensation for it, lies solely with forest and state officials.

India's new law facilitates displacement "without any accountability to the people whose forests, lands and lives will be damaged or destroyed", said the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a coalition of charities supporting tribal rights.

India's plans to develop infrastructure, mining and renewable energy threaten to force more of the most marginalized groups from their homes, widening inequality and fanning tensions, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said this month.

According to the Geneva-based research group, between 1950 and 2005, about 65 million people were displaced in India by dams, highways, mines and power plants - of which, at least 40 percent were indigenous people.

The bill, which was initially drawn up in 2008 by the previous Congress government, had lapsed after delays in its passage. It was passed by the lower house in May.

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