Outlaw enforcement

Another disincentive to sound forest management for Indians

Published: Saturday 30 September 2000

In india , natural resources belong to the government. As natural resources provide livelihood to a vast majority of Indians, it can be concluded that the people of India belong to the government. So the Indian people are of the government, for the government, and by the government. But isn't India a democracy? Theoretically, yes. Actually, no. If the people were supreme in India, the forest protection laws would not have been so draconian as to consider forest dwelling communities destructive to the cause of conservation. They have lived with the forests from much before the first time an Indian learnt to say 'constitution' or 'conservation'.

The latest bad news comes from the Supreme Court, which ruled on August 24 that the holders of surplus land had no right to felling and removing trees or other forest produce from the forest area even before vesting of the property in the state government. Stated simply, this well-intentioned ruling implies that anyone who owns a forested land that is due to be acquired by the state government cannot use any produce of the forest. The idea is to prevent the landholder from plundering resources through a scorched earth policy.

Effectively, this means that there is no incentive for a person in possession of land that is to come under the respective land ceiling act of the state government to keep the area green. The law is bound to achive just what it aims to prevent, that is, further destruction of India's forests.

What is the way out? The task seems insurmountable. India does not really need to protect its forests from forest dwelling communities. It desperately needs to protect them from the forest bureaucracy and petty political interests. More than 25 years after the Chipko movement taught this valuable lesson, heralding the environmental movement in India, there are no takers. Still.

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