Indian Forest Conservation Policies = Conservation minus the people

Across the world it has been recognised that Involving communities living in and around natural resource-rich areas in the management and use of these resources is an effective tool of conservation.

This strategy was affirmed by the 1980 World Conservation Strategy of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the 1992 Earth Summit.

Exclusionist Approach in India

  • The Indian Forest Act 1927 and the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 created different types and grades of protected areas and contained provisions to restrict or outlaw local use of natural resources and landscapes.
  • Even though there were a number of policies that mirrored the global shift towards inclusive conservation such as the 1988 National Forest Policy, the 1992 National Conservation Strategy, the National Environment Policy of 2006 and the 2007 Biosphere Reserves Guidelines, its earlier exclusionary conservation legislation continued to stay in place.
  • Further the 1990 Joint Forest Management Guidelines (JFM) created community institutions for co-management it was criticised as being bureaucracy-heavy, with little real devolution of powers to local communities.
  • The Forest Rights Act went beyond sanctioning local usage to conferring rights to local communities over forest land and produce. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs was mandated with operationalising the Forest Rights Act, while conservation remained under the domain of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Due to the hostile bureaucratic environment, the legislation faltered.
  • The third National Wildlife Action Plan, introduced in 2017, with the stated intent of complying with international commitments is categorically of the view that locals hinder conservation. Even where communities are to be involved, it distinctly avoids the attribution of rights and instead promotes usage within a bureaucracy-controlled format.
  • The draft National Forest Policy 208 emphasised on the protected area model of conservation that leaves little room for communities.
  • A comprehensive overhaul of the Indian Forest Act was proposed in 2019 introduces provisions for extinguishing rights granted under the Forest Rights Act and provides the forest bureaucracy unprecedented powers to enter and search the premises of forest-dwellers on suspicion, arrest without warrant and use firearms to meet conservation goals.

India’s conservation policies in recent years leave no doubt as to the model of conservation the country is intent on pursuing. It is said that whereas the other countries are recognising the value of community-involved conservation models, India is stridently and steadfastly moving in the opposite direction.

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