More than 30 of India’s top ecologists, scientists and wildlife conservationists and have demanded that the petitioners withdraw their case against the Forest Rights Act and the government ensure the February 13 order of the Supreme Court for eviction of about 1.89 million tribal and forest-dwelling families be withdrawn.
They have called the Supreme Court order ‘unjust’ to the tribals as well as against the interest of wildlife conservation in India. In a statement issued jointly by the scientists they said, “We do not regard this order as pro-conservation. On the contrary, it is a real setback for conservation in India. We do not agree with the claim of the petitioners in this case that their positions represent the interests of conservation.”
The joint statement comes as a response to petition filed by a few wildlife groups along with retired forest officials against the constitutional validity of the Forest Rights Act. Responding to their subsequent plea in the case, the Supreme Court, on February 13 ordered the summary forcible eviction of around 1.89 million tribal and forestdwelling families whose claims to traditional forestlands have been rejected under the law.
The conservation scientists said, “We join forest people's organisations in calling upon the central and state governments to seek the reversal of this unjust (February 13 Supreme Court) order, not least because it will cause immense harm to conservation.
The group includes wildlife biologists, scientists and conservationists from Nature Conservation Foundation, Aziz Premji University, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Statistical Institute, Indian Institute of Science, Madras Institute of Development Studies and several independent voices.
They said, “The rights of local communities are an integral part of any sustainable and just model of conservation, as is now recognised in international law. Furthermore, the Forest Rights Act not only recognises these rights, it also legally empowers communities to protect their forests and wildlife as well. It is the first and only law in India that gives those who live in and with forests the power to protect them.”
Criticising the petitioning wildlife groups in the case, the group said, “We find it particularly ironic that they (the petitioners) went to court claiming that the procedures under this (Forest Rights) Act are 'arbitrary', and are now seeking to say that those same procedures are so effective and sacrosanct that millions of people should be evicted on the basis of their results.”
Agreeing with the position the tribal groups and the opposition had taken earlier and now the Union government too has eventually taken, the group of wildlife biologists said, ‘It is incredibly difficult for local communities who have long been oppressed by the state Forest Departments to secure their rights. We believe that those interested in conservation should be working to strengthen the transparency, community and democratic potential that the FRA creates - not seeking to attack forest dwellers or the law.”