Once again we have a new minister and once again we have pious statements. For the first time, however a minister has admitted that 350 million people in India are dependent upon the forest for their livelihood. While all this is fine and a lot of the right words have been uttered about people's participation including praise for the Joint Forest Management ( jfm ) projects carried out in 22 states, they are still only words. What we are seeing once again is a lot of rhetoric. This happens whenever a new minister takes over. He talks about the need to revamp the forest policy but fails to tackle the real issues.
By now it has become very clear through the success of jfm -- it will be the tenth year of jfm in June. That it is time we took further steps. It has become imperative to give people more control over forests. Forests are still very much under the control of forest officials. While it is no doubt that jfm has been a major success there remain many unresolved issues. The rights of local communities over major forest produce like timber is one.
The success of jfm has to a great extent rested on the shoulders of good forest officials who have been open to change. But what we now need is good policy. We have done a lot of talking and it is time we put our act together.
Perhaps the minister should take a cue from the drought. Certain villages are managing to do well for themselves even after two successive drought years. This is because the local communities did not rely upon state managed water supply programmes and displayed the initiative to harvest and store rainwater.
While other villages have been devastated these village communities have water to drink. Therefore if the minister really wishes to set in motion an integrated forest policy, he must create space for local people and provide local communities a stake in the forests as well.
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