Prickly plans

Will those playing in MEF's new game be coopted?

Published: Wednesday 15 January 2003

in the last two months or so the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef) has not been its usual bovine self. First, it got the Biodiversity bill approved by parliament. It then ensured an amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Collaborating with others, the ministry has chalked out the capacious national biodiversity strategy and action plan (nbsap); moreover, a forestry commission will review the nation's management of forestry. District-level forest development authorities will be set up to look over joint forest management. Simultaneously, it put up a brave front before a Supreme Court (sc) bench on the issue of encroachments.

Whew. Is the mef kick-starting a revolution here? No, not really. It has got a tad savvy. It is co-opting the opposition. Positioning itself as its own critic. Obfuscating the real voices of dissent even as it carries on its usual business. How? The legislations passed, and decisions taken, strengthen the forest bureaucracy. The nbsap is a neat smoke screen.

The mef, over the last three years, has spent a tidy sum (us $993,000) in developing the nbsap. Non-governmental organisations (ngos) have coordinated the unique process, recording the voices of thousands to develop a plan to save India's biodiversity (domestic as well as wild). The plan, at the end of the day, says all the right things (almost all). It has raised expectations. Made people hope, especially at the grassroots, that these principles will now be adhered to.

Keeping stakeholders involved in the process of nbsap, the mef has surreptitiously gone on to do what it intended to anyways. Sample any part of the two uninspiring pieces of legislations passed. Sample the flip-flop before the sc on encroachments.

One doesn't expect anything else from the ministry. But the people and the ngos involved with the nbsap should know better. They cannot let voices recorded in the plan gather dust in files or be muted into the stuff of tidy publications. If they really want to be harbingers of change, they better get ready to fight the real war and rebel against their foster fathers in the mef. It's time to bite the hand that fed them these three years, demand that the mef mend its ways and implement the principles that it is only willing to mouth as platitudes. Bring about rules that reflect the plan, implement the strategies they so assiduously recommend. Else, their cooption is complete.

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