Lessons needed in governance

A betrayed people: forest land right usurped

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The tents pitched in front of Kerala Chief Minister's residence might have been dismantled. The agitating tribals, claiming victory with the 7-point pact signed with the administration on October 16, may be celebrating. But was the battle really won? More pertinently, did the tribal leaders really understand what they might have lost in the bargain?

The pact, signed on October 16, may have given them land, but not ecological security to a marginalized society. A mere promised piece of land will not ensure they will find a solution to their livelihood issues. This will only put them on the crossroads once more.

The Kerala government has, meanwhile done it again. Promising among other things 1-5 acres of land to landless tribal communities and recognizing 90 per cent of forest area tribals, the state government has sought to appease the adivasis. However, it is well known that the tribals of Kerala have time and again found themselves at the receiving end. Extensive forest lands belonging to the tribals were alienated often through dubious methods in the last many years by non-tribal settlers. The state has a long history of "regularizing" forest land to tribals. But then the history of forest regularization to tribals has been dismal. Government after government has done it for populist reasons. And worse, the land gets degraded.

The victory that the adivasis today claim will turn out to be a hollow one unless steps are taken to entitle people to utilize the forests. People need the ability to use the forests and forest produce. It is important to see how these lands are managed and ensure that they bring economic returns to tribals. Forest produce must be promoted through a well-regulated market. What is the point in giving land when the people cannot put it to use. Forest must become a resource for the people.

In taking such populist decisions the forests are destroyed and the people lose out. If the government was serious about giving people their rights, it should consider a long-term strategy for a sustainable livelihood. The adivasis have not much use of legislations but they remain the only constitutional option available to ensure that the laws serve their interest and that they are implemented to ensure their very survival as communities in the future. This, of course, has to be politically forced.

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