Giridhar Gamanga / Orissa Chief Minister

What is your concept of conservation when the state is facing severe degradation of the forests and other environmental problems?
My concept is very clear: there has to be a fine balance between development and ecology. But whatever policies we formulate must be accepted by the people. We need development in areas like infrastructure and industries. Also, we need to conserve the ecology of the region as many of our people are dependent on it. The balance between the two can be struck only when the people accept our policies.

So you are in favour of people-oriented policies where they decide what they need.

But there are instances when people have not been taken into consideration or their efforts recognised?
It is not that we didn't listen to them. I will take time to implement my policies. The people who now say that environment is being destroyed and people are not given their rights were once in power. They didn't perform at that time.

When I was Union minister of tribal welfare, my secretary and other senior officials kept delaying any decision towards giving tribals more power over land and forests. Now they are protesting against me saying that I am not giving rights to the people.

Coming back to the issue of participatory democracy, how are you going to recognise the rights of forest communities in Orissa?
We have been traditionally protecting forests. There is a joint forest management programme in our state that assures people's rights over forests.

I am talking about the people who are protecting forests on their own.
I know there are such initiatives in many districts.

How will you address their demands for rights over the forest?
They get forest produce free. Who has stopped them from enjoying this right?

But the villagers are asking for ownership rights over the forest?
If they have protected the forest on their own, they have absolute rights on it.

Villagers have protected government forest lands too.
They are allowed to take only the non-timber forest produce.

But it is in contrast to your people-oriented policy.
I will unveil a lot of major government decisions on this issue. But I am not going to tell you as there are vested interests that might scuttle my plans.

Anyway, what would be the focus of these decisions?
Take it from me that the people will get all rights on the resources they are entitled to. I assure you.