After promising major reforms, the Federal Government greatly diluted the Wildlife Bill in a bid to appease the tribal lobby and passed the Wildlife Bill in great hurry that could greatly affect conservation efforts and endangered species.
Firstly, Environment Minister A Raja promised that voluntary relocation of tribals living within forests will be initiated only after their rights are protected by the
environmentally disastrous Tribal Bill. Since the fate of the Tribal Bill itself is unsure, there will no vacation of tiger reserves till that legislation is approved or disapproved. Raja’s capitulation only shows that, contrary to every available independent opinion, the Environment Ministry is for the Tribal Bill.
Secondly, Raja has invalidated existing provisions that prohibits human presence in core areas of forests where endangered species and its ecosystem feed and breed so the “rights of scheduled tribes or such other forest dwellers” are not violated. There are 100,000 tribals who live in such areas.
Thirdly, non-government organizations have called for a “buffer zone” around the forests so encroachment, grazing, cultivation, and illegal tree felling is stopped. After promising that this measure will be included, Raja now wants the buffer zone to be decided “in consultation with gram sabhas and expert committees.”
Fourthly, by making evictions contingent on the Tribal Bill outcome and the inclusion of State-level determination whether squatters and encroachers affect the habitat of endangered species, Raja has now made it impossible to evict anyone who is living in the forests. By asking States to elicit opinions of the same communities that see endangered species as competition, the Bill has created an innate conflict of interest that will always go against the endangered species. Raja has now legally created insurmountable hurdles for forest officials from evicting forest inhibitors.
Fifthly, the Bill has handcuffed the Center from passing any legislation that will promote conservation or environmental laws that may affect the rights of tribals. While providing compensation as directed by the National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy, the Bill requires allotment of land to tribals before asking them to relocate and representatives from Gram Sabhas will be involved in the process of “informed consent.”
The only bright side of this bill is stronger legislation against poachers. First time poachers will be liable for a fine up to Rs. 2 lakh (USD 4300) and imprisonment up to 7 years and subsequent violations from Rs. 5 lakh to 50 lakh.