Disproportionate soil erosion
by shifting cultivation is a fallacy. Studies have shown
that land clearing in traditional shifting cultivation
had the lowest amount of erosion and sediment loss from
the system compared to any other form of land clearing
and tillage system. Similar results were found in Sarawak,
Malaysia and Thailand. The reasons for low erosion despite
farming on steep slopes are very short periods with exposed
soil (after burning, before plant establishment), limited
or no tillage, and traditional measures such as placing
unburned logs horizontally on the slope.
The low productivity of
shifting cultivation systems is not more inherent to these
systems than any other farming system. Rather, the lack
of productivity improvement is the result of a consequent
neglect of shifting cultivation in agronomic research.
Shifting cultivators often have poor access to agro-chemicals
because of poverty, inadequate extension systems and a
general disregard of their farming practices by authorities.
While yields of staple crops
such as rice, maize, or cassava, are often quite low,
many other plants are intercropped in the Jum fields and
collected from the secondary forest, making overall productivity
much higher. Precise quantification of total productivity
in shifting cultivation is very difficult, however.
Many indigenous communities
such as the Nagas and majority of the indigenous groups
of Arunachal Pradesh do not cut the major forests for
jum cultivation and only clear the minor forests and burn
it for shifting cultivation.
carried out using traditional techniques, shifting cultivation
appears environmentally more sustainable than most permanent
farming systems under humid tropical conditions. Most
studies on shifting cultivation have focused on the effects
of management practices and very little research has been
devoted to agronomic improvement of crop production in
the system, mainly because the system has been considered
inherently primitive and even anti-development. It is
because shifting cultivation is more frequently compared
with forestry activities or even natural forests rather
than with other farming systems.
II. Conservation of wildlife: Blaming the victims
of trafficking, not traffickers
After the recent reports of the reduction of tiger
population in Sariska wild life area, a red herring has
been raised to state that the Draft Forest Bill will further
reduce the tiger population in the country.
This notion is akin to blaming the victims of trafficking
and not the organized criminal groups who force hundreds
of thousands of women across the world into contemporary
forms of slavery.
Are the poor Scheduled Tribes
to be blamed given the existence of stringent Wildlife
Protection Act of 1972 for the reduction of tigers? That
organized criminal gangs and poachers are responsible
for the reduction of tiger populations have been confirmed
by conservationists, forest officials, police and other
related agencies. In October 2003, custom officers in the Tibet Autonomous Region
of China reportedly intercepted a record haul of 31 tiger
skins and 581 leopard skins being trucked to the capital
Lhasa. A report of the Centre for Environment and Science after visiting
score of villages inside the Sariska Tiger Reserve in
March 2003 blamed the forest officials for the loss of
the tigers. It found that concerned forest officials were
complacent and negligent in their duty and that enabled
the poachers to kill the endangered species.
Why only Sariska? Poaching
by organised networks of smugglers remains the most serious
and major cause of decrease in the population of the endangered
species including the tiger throughout the country. For
example, at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, some 41 rhinoceros were killed
by poachers in 1986, 27 in 1987, 26 rhinoceros killed
in 1996. An average of 9-12 poachers are shot by staff
every year, 60 were killed during the 1990s.
The development monologues
have raised question as to whether the failure to develop
the Scheduled Tribes in the last 50 years can be compensated
by the Draft Forest Rights Bill. The question has been
raised as to whether North East India has developed anything
“apart from apparent cultural westernization”, after hundreds
of crores of development funds went down? The same question
can be raised with regard to Bihar or Uttar Pradesh or
Chattisgarh, not to mention about the security related
expenditure in the North East due to inability to address
the root causes of the conflicts in the region.
The issue has
always been the denial of justice. According to 1991 census,
the population of the Scheduled Tribes in India was 67.8
million, about 8.1 percent of the total population of
the country. And they also constituted 55.16% of total displaced people. A large number of people have been
evicted for conservation of nature. The failure to provide
rehabilitation consistent with constitutional provisions
such as "land for land" for rehabilitation of
the evicted Schedulted Tribes (as provided in the 5th
and 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India) has compelled
many indigenous peoples to seek recourse with minor forest
Obviously, tunnel vision
is not helpful.
Forest Bill - a fine Balance between rights and responsibility
the Forest Rights Bill give blanket access to forest areas?
The Draft Forest Bill is clearly states "The
recognition and vesting of forest rights to forest dwelling
Scheduled Tribes where they were scheduled, in respect
of forest land and their habitat is subject to the condition
that such forest welling Scheduled Tribes have occupied
forest lands or acquired rights before 25 October 1980".
In fact the Draft Forest
Bill does not address the concerns of hundreds of thousands
of Scheduled Tribes who have been turned into encroachers
because of the differentiation between the pre-1980 and
post-1980 encroachments. The National Commission on Scheduled
Castes and Scheduled Tribe noted that as a result of the
Forest Conservation Act, 1.48 lakh persons, mainly tribals,
occupying 1.81 lakh hectares of lands in forest areas
in Madhya Pradesh suddenly became encroachers on October
24, 1980, and thus liable for eviction. In addition, a large area
of cultivable lands of indigenous tribal peoples have
been categorised as encroachment areas despite the fact
that these cultivable lands existed prior to the promulgation
of he Forest Conservation Act 1980.
The question also arises
as to whether the Scheduled Tribes will have unhindered
access to forest areas with impunity.
The Draft Forest Bill entrusts
the forest right holders with duties and responsibilities
for prevention of activities that adversely affect wild life, forest and the bio-diversity in the local
area, protection of catchment areas, water bodies and
other ecologically sensitive areas, intimation to the
Gram Sabha and/or forest authorities of any activity that
adversely affects the wild life, forest and the bio diversity.
The bill also requires the Gram Sabha to stop any activity
that adversely affects the wild life, forest and the biodiversity.
More importantly, the bill recognizes any activity not
specifically permitted under it as offence and provides
for penalties. First offence will attract a penalty of up
to Rs 1,000 and second offence will mean temporary or
permanent termination of rights.
from exclusion of the forest dwellers who are not Scheduled
Tribes, the bill seeks to strike a balance of rights vis
a vis duty.
The Bill can further be strengthened by recognising
the rights of all forest dwellers irrespective of whether
they are Scheduled Tribes or not. Since 25 October 1980
has been set a deadline, the exclusion of non-Scheduled
Tribes forest dwellers is discriminatory.
V. Mainstreaming rights perspectives: The challenge for the conservationists
are often accused of encroaching their own lands on which
they have been living for centuries - for simply not registering
organisations have gradually been recognising the role
of the indigenous peoples for protection of bio-diversity.
In 1994, the World Conservation Union adopted revised
categories of protected areas, which accept that indigenous
peoples may own and manage protected areas. To accommodate
the economic activities of resident peoples, the IUCN
gives particular emphasis to the need to increase the
number of protected areas in its Categories V and VI,
'Protected Landscapes/Seascapes' and 'Managed Resource
In May 1996, the World Wide
Fund for Nature (International) adopted a new policy on
indigenous peoples and conservation. It recognises the
rights of indigenous peoples to the use, ownership and
control of their traditional territories, approves the
current draft of the United Nations Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples and emphasises the principle
of free and informed consent in all interactions between
indigenous peoples and conservation organisations The
World Conservation Congress at its meeting in Montreal
in November 1996 also adopted resolutions recognising
the rights of indigenous peoples and their role for conservation
The 5th World Parks Conference in September
2003 made commitment
to involve local communities, indigenous and mobile peoples
in the creation, proclamation and management of protected
Time has come for many Indian
environmentalists to take rights based approaches to conservation