ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Rights Act

Several wildlife groups have opposed the Forest Rights Act as being anti-conservation. However, field experience indicates that the act can and is being used by local communities for arresting biodiversity decline by opposing the diversion of forests to mega-development projects and by using situated knowledge and values to bring about conservation.

The conservation model in India has been top down, bureaucratic and arbitrary. The Indian Forest Act (IFA) first enacted in 1865 established state control over forests, primarily used by the colonial government for extraction of timber. This centralised control of forests continued and even intensified under the independent Indian state, where forests were either diverted for developmental purposes or designated as “protected areas” to meet international conservation goals. The primary instrument for the latter has been the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA) 1972.

The model of conservation enshrined in the WLPA is premised on creating human-free zones for the protection of rare species based on the erroneous notion that local people are the prime drivers of wildlife decline. While such protected areas approach has been successful to some extent in protecting certain species, it has done so at the cost of the cultural, economic, social and political rights of communities living in these areas (Pathak Broome et al 2014). A 2009 estimate suggested that about 1,00,000 families have been displaced over the last three or four decades from protected areas (Lasgorceix and Kothari 2009). Given the reports of ongoing relocations across the country over the last decade, this figure could only have increased. Thus, by actively alienating local people, the WLPA furthered the marginalisation of forest dwellers while ignoring the real reasons for wildlife population decline. These include intensive hunting of tigers and other large animals by British and local rulers in the past, and a decline in wildlife habitat due to continuous large-scale diversion of forests for agriculture, dams, and mining. A long struggle against such exclusionary forest policies and conservation practices resulted in the enactment of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.

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Updated On : 30th Jun, 2017

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