24-Sep-2006

The Tribal Bill - Let's Face Reality

And recognise that there is a price to pay for 'development'. Says Pankaj Sekhsaria, talking about the criticism of the Tribal Bill:

Thousands of acres of productive land are being acquired to create Special Economic Zones at the cost of thousands of families and millions of existing livelihoods; traditional tribal lands (many which are thickly forested) are being mined and drowned with impunity across the length and breadth of the country; huge infrastructure projects are being created in some of the most sensitive ecological systems and dollar-earning tourism projects are being advocated in lands where traditional communities are being displaced in the name of wildlife conservation. There was an interesting report a couple of years ago of encroachment and tree felling by tribals deep inside the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa. Investigation revealed that these were people who had been recently displaced by huge mining projects in neighbouring Jharkhand. These, we have to realise, are human beings and cannot be expected to vanish into thin air. They have to go somewhere; they have to do something to ensure their survival and that of their families!

Still tiger vs. tribal?

It has also been argued that the tiger has no votes, the tribal is a huge vote bank and that is why vested interests with short-term political horizons are willing to sacrifice the forests and the tiger. That's true. The tiger has no votes, but incidentally, neither does the huge "capital" (increasingly foreign) that wants to mine the tiger and elephant-rich forests of Niyamgiri, construct a port at Dhamra right in midst of Olive Ridley turtle habitat (both in Orissa), rip apart critical wildlife migratory corridors for coal in the Jharkhand's North Karanpura Valley or ensure fast moving rail and road traffic that has claimed a number of wild elephants in forests across North Bengal. Gujarat Forest Department figures, for instance, reveal that nearly 150 wild animals, including leopards, hyena and neelgai were killed in road accidents between 1998 and 2004 in the Vadodara Forest Circle of the State alone. This is not an isolated case and is happening across the country. An animal killed by a tribal can at least be eaten. Of what use is one that is flattened within minutes between fast moving rubber and rock hard bitumen?

Let's accept the fact that development, speed and GDP growth will come with a price. Let's be honest about it. We've eaten the cake (certainly eating it at the present) and we are also crying that we are losing it. We, obviously, cannot have both things at the same time. What's worse, however, is we want to pass the responsibility of what is happening on to somebody else — the tribal, the tiger, the elephant... those that don't really have a voice, have never had a voice.

A major criticism of the Tribal Bill is that once the people get ownership of the land, there will be a virtual stampede to sell it to the highest bidder and/or a virtual carnage in which the forests are decimated. As I'd noted here, it is not at all clear that the situation will be worse than it is now, when the forest department/government owns the land. The above article gives a lot of instances to prove the point, from someone who seems to be in a position to know. As did a
serendipitous discovery of a dysfunctional website.

Maybe we really should, as the above writer suggests, realize that development has its side-effects and get used to losing our forests, instead of blaming tribals.

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