Forest commission report on forest rights bill validates government's stand
The forest commission submitted its report to the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef), recently. But many observers had anticipated the document's tenor well before the report was submitted, after the commission sent a note to the prime minister's office in March contending that the proposed forests rights bill would be inimical to conservation and forestry. The contents of this note did not remain hidden from conservationists and tribal rights' groups. Many feared that the commission's report would mirror the moef's stand on forest rights and other issues. Their fears weren't unfounded.
Set up in January 2002, the forest commission's tenure marked an eventful period for the moef: the tiger crisis leading to a questioning of old shibboleths, while the move to open forestry to private entrepreneurs placed the moef's working under the scanner. But the report seems untouched by this tumult. Let's understand why.
The first chapter puts forward just two recommendations. The first is a call to increase the forest cover to 33 per cent of the country's land area. There is nothing new about this recommendation: the government has been harping on it since 1988.
The second proposal is a call to classify forests better, which can be done. But the research acumen in institutes like Forest Survey of India lie unused because of a lack of political will. Who in the ministry would want to tell how much forest is natural and how much is mere plantation.
Banalities abound in the next two chapters as well. It's only in the fourth chapter where the report betrays its true intent. It recommends powers for divisional forest officers to summarily remove encroachments. It also demands a change in the Indian Forest Act, 1927, with greater powers for the forest department. How this is received is a funcion of one's position in the debate about forest dwellers' rights vis-a-vis conservation, but the fact is that the report has put in words something that moef has been contemplating for more than a year.
The chapter on ecological security sets the government some demanding tasks. Control livestock movements across state boundaries, it directs, and then asks the animal husbandry departments to