India Intelligence Report

   Environmentalists Aghast at Tribal Rights Bill


A joint committee of Members of Parliament had submitted a draft legislation, which will no doubt pass because it has the over-enthusiastic support of the communists, which seeks to make over valued forest land over to the tribal population. The concept is that the tribals have been ancient guardians of the forests and have learnt to use the land effectively without compromising the delicate ecological balance. What follows is that with the land under their control, their net worth goes up, increasing their social standing, and therefore upgrades them into the modern world.

Well, that is theory. The reality is that many of the tribals are illiterate and essentially under the control of the politician who is also a land mafiaso, a murdering criminal, and an extortionist who can operate with impunity. While conceptually the land is owned by the tribals, there is no protection from coercion, threats, and retribution for not “selling” the land to the “real estate” agents who are really operatives of the politician. Moreover, the tribal has no control over those who enter their land as they will not get even the nominal support of the under-trained and under-equipped forest guards. What cannot be protected are endangered animals, old growth forests, and the lives of the tribal poor. Therefore, the politicians are impatient to get a law passed that will in essence write themselves large tracts of mineral and resource rich land waiting to be exploited.

Environmentalists are throwing up their hands in frustration and essentially waiting to use the only organ of the Government that can be expected to function, the Judiciary, to contain the bill. Wildlife Trust of India says that it appears that “8% growth is more important than 5% protected areas.”

Actually, this is not the conventional development versus environment debate as in the case of Narmada Dam. It is not even animal versus human habitation debate as in the case of stray elephants in Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. This is case of misplaced values of right and wrong, justice, and plain greed. The communists think that giving the tribals the land will “right” the “wrong” done to them all these years. The tribals think that they have a right to their own small fortune and therefore just to have allocated the land that generations before them so assiduously managed and guarded. The other politicians cannot stop the glee in gaining access to so much land with resources and outside the ambit of the law.