New Forest Conservation Rules Are Against Indigenous Populations: NCST Panel


Oct 21, 2022


Image Credit: Hitesh Sonar for The Swaddle

A panel constituted by the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes (NCST) on Thursday expressed caution against a new set of forest conservation rules, The Hindu reported. The panel held that the rules, introduced by the union government in June 2022, were against the interests of forest-dwelling people. The rules had met with opposition from forest rights activists, indigenous communities, and opposition parties, almost as soon as they were introduced. In August, the NCST had instituted a six-member panel to look into the fresh set of rules, and previous sets of laws and guidelines outlining forest rights, to determine whether the current rules went against the interests of indigenous peoples. On Thursday, the panel’s chairperson Harsh Chouhan wrote to the Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change expressing the panel’s major reservations against the new rules.

Notably, the Forest Conversation Rules, 2022 allow the union government to permit the clearing of a forest for development purposes before consulting with the people inhabiting its perimeters, leaving them with no option but to consent to their land being taken away once the government has already handed it over to private players. This is a departure from existing rules, which mandated state governments to verify the consent of original inhabitants of forest lands before giving away their lands. It is also in contradiction of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, which mandates governments to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of forest-dwellers before taking their land for development projects. In his letter, Chouhan states, “the current rules have done away with the requirement of seeking consent altogether.”

The NCST’s opposition to the new rules highlights the vast gap that exists between the state’s vision for industrial development and its dedication to protecting the interests of indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples and their interests and concerns hardly fit in the state’s imagination of development. This is a dangerous position, especially amid the climate crisis that grips the world. As original inhabitants of ecosystems vital to the planet’s health, indigenous peoples are often the best equipped to protect forests and biodiversity.

In April this year, a joint report by the World Resources Institute and Climate Focus, an international policy advisory group, upheld that the participation of indigenous populations is vital to meaningfully combat climate change. Indigenous populations are “incredible stewards and protectors of their lands and play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions”, the report states. Organizations like the United Nations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature have also highlighted the crucial role indigenous populations play in conserving natural life forms. Writing for the Swaddle earlier this year, Devrupa Rakshit noted that, “cooperation between indigenous and non-indigenous conservationists — rather than excluding the former — is crucial to meet our conservation goals.”

Related on The Swaddle:

Climate Action Goals Will Fail Unless Indigenous Communities Are Protected: Report

Indeed, as a study published last year in the journal PNAS found, prehistoric indigenous populations residing in the Amazon rainforest over a period of 5000 years brought little damage to the forest. They used natural resources sustainably and played a role in preserving large tracts of the rainforest. Reporting on the study for The Swaddle, Saumya Kalia wrote, “the study reiterates that the reservoir of indigenous knowledge and inclusion of groups remain critical to helping preserve biodiversity in the Amazon.” Between 1970 and 2021, the Amazon — the largest forest in the world, often termed the Earth’s lungs — shrunk to 80% of its size and is predicted to shrink further as land continues to be cleared for industrial activities.

Thus, safeguarding the rights of forest-dwelling populations is vital for the world to effectively combat global warming and the climate crisis, and to preserve our natural resources. More importantly, however, it is also vital that indigenous populations be recognized and treated as equal citizens by the government and the law.

The government’s proposal of bypassing mechanisms that ensured that the indigenous peoples had a right to consent (and the right to withhold it, if required) is a gross violation of their human rights and suggests that the government hardly sees the interests of indigenous humans as worthy of protection. The government is only occupied with evicting indigenous peoples from their land in exchange for meager monetary compensation. A 2018 report by Housing and Land Rights Network, India, notes that “in a majority of reported eviction cases, state authorities did not follow due process established by national and international standards … All cases of forced eviction resulted in multiple and often gross human rights violations.” This indicates the authorities’ apathy toward safeguarding the rights of the indigenous peoples as equal citizens of the country.

The NCST’s letter to the government on the new rules is a timely intervention aimed at protecting the interests and addressing the concerns of indigenous populations. It is a reminder to the government that indigenous peoples must be respected as equal citizens, and that they must be taken in as important stakeholders in conservations concerning forest areas and lands.


Written By Amlan Sarkar

Amlan Sarkar is a staff writer at TheSwaddle. He writes about the intersection between pop culture and politics. You can reach him on Instagram @amlansarkr.


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