Will global forest expansion hit tribals?

News Excerpt:

A symposium on the rights of Indigenous people organized by the University of Arizona recently spotlighted the Indigenous peoples across the world will suffer if the U.N.’s Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework pursues and achieves its target of increasing protected areas from the current 16% to 30% of the world’s terrestrial area.

  • The bid to safeguard biodiversity by almost doubling protected areas worldwide will hit India’s tribal population the hardest.

About Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF):

  • This framework was adopted during the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, or COP15, to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2022. 
  • It claims to support achieving sustainable development goals and building on previous strategic plans, paving “an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050.” 
  • Accordingly, four goals were set for 2050 and 23 targets for 2030 toward planning, monitoring, reporting and reviewing implementation, organising finance, and drawing up strategies for capacity development, technical and scientific cooperation, and an agreement on digital sequence information on genetic resources. 
  • In adopting the GBF, all party committees set national targets to implement it.

Implications of the GBF:

  • Participants at the Symposium on Conservation, Racism, and Indigenous Peoples Human Rights felt that the GBF's goals tilt the scale in favour of corporate houses eyeing forest resources at the expense of indigenous communities living with nature. 
  • They pointed out that, across Asia, indigenous peoples face massive human rights violations in protected areas. 
    • In the Ujungkulon National Park of Indonesia, indigenous peoples are denied the right to proper housing, health, education, electricity, and security. 
    • In Cambodia, indigenous leader Heng Saphen, living inside the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary, was convicted by a kangaroo court for cultivating on her own land.
    • Cambodia’s Botum Sakor National Park, whose forest cover was reduced to 18% due to logging, two years after the park was handed over to a private investment firm.
  • Involving the private sector in forest conservation is a bad idea.
    • India has taken a step in that direction with the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act of 2023, which includes zoos, safaris, ecotourism facilities, etc., as Forest activities. 
  • The increasing privatisation of the protected areas in the name of ecotourism and sustainable ecotourism was the most serious emerging challenge to the existence of indigenous communities.
    • The indigenous peoples at expensive ecotourism spots have been reduced to sitting in traditional replicas of their homes in traditional attires and ornaments, playing musical instruments, and performing traditional music and dances until the tourists depart. 
    • More often than not, indigenous peoples are projected like animals in a zoo in many of the ecotourism spots.

Disproportionate impact:

  • Scheduled Tribes, who constitute about 8.6% of the total population of India, account for 84% of the communities impacted by the protected areas, reflecting the disproportionate targeting of indigenous peoples for saving the world’s biodiversity and ecosystem. 
    • Their lifestyles and livelihood practices have been criminalised with legislation such as the Forest Act of 1927 since colonial times.
  • On the other hand, people belonging to the general category have only been affected by seven national parks.

What would GBF mean for India?

  • About 84% of India’s national parks (89 out of a total of 106) were established in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples, and meeting the GBF targets will threaten their existence. 
  • The initiative to upgrade the Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan to a tiger reserve will affect 162 tribal villages located inside and outside the sanctuary. 
  • The expansion of the Nauradehi Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh is set to affect 62 villages of mostly tribal people. 
  • In Assam, notification for the Barak Bhuban Wildlife Sanctuary will affect the Khasis, Dimasas, and other indigenous groups. 
    • The gazette notification states that the sanctuary “is free from encroachment as per record, there are no rights and concessions of any person in the area,” but the Khasis possess documents showing they have been living there since 1914.

Way forward to protect the tribal lands in India: The government of India needs to change its policy. 

  • First, it has to recognise the right to free, prior, and informed consent as guaranteed under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and make further amendments to the laws to make the tribals custodians of the PAs as nature has largely been protected because of their special relations with the forests and their denizens. 
  • Secondly, the government of India should not only target the tribal areas simply because they do not matter electorally. 
    • Uttar Pradesh and Bihar only have one national park each – Dudhwa, inhabited by the indigenous Tharu people and Valmiki, inhabited by the Tharus, Oraons, Mundas, etc. - speaks for itself. 
    • If tiger reserves can be created in areas where there are no tigers, such as Sahyadri (Maharashtra), Satkosia (Odisha), Kamlang (Arunachal Pradesh), Kawal (Telangana), and Dampa (Mizoram), there is no reason why PAs cannot be created in non-tribal areas. 
  • Finally, India ought to address human rights violations seriously in the PAs
    • Human rights issues of these people, such as access to education, healthcare, and housing, cannot be left to the Wildlife or Forest Department. 
    • Thousands of indigenous people living within the PAs must be respected and recognised for preserving the biodiversity and the ecosystem and not punished.

Conclusion:

If indigenous peoples win the right to stay inside the protected areas, they live with restricted freedom of movement, little or no access to development initiatives, excessive surveillance, sexual violence, and criminal cases for forest offences, poaching, etc. If they accept relocation, the world has not seen a single successful case of rehabilitation and resettlement.


Related News: Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023