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STATEMENT FROM CONSERVATIONISTS ON SUPREME COURT ORDER

As conservationists and environmentalists, we are dismayed by the Supreme Court’s order of February 13th, 2019 to evict claimants under the Forest Rights Act whose claims have been rejected. This order came in a case filed by (among others) a group of wildlife organisations.

We do not regard this order as pro-conservation. On the contrary, it is a real setback for conservation in India. Forest dwellers have for centuries used and managed these forests that we are now considering to be valuable for conservation. The rights of local communities are an integral part of any sustainable and just model of conservation, as is now recognised in international law. Furthermore, the Forest Rights Act not only recognises these rights, it also legally empowers communities to protect their forests and wildlife as well.  It is the first and only law in India that gives those who live in and with forests the power to protect them. Since it was notified into force in 2008, the FRA has been a key weapon in the hands of communities across India, from Niyamgiri to North Bengal to Uttarakhand to Maharashtra, who seek to protect forests and defend themselves against corporate and government resource grabbing.

We do not agree with the claim of the petitioners in this case that their positions represent the interests of conservation. We do not agree with their claim that only “bogus claimants” will be affected by this recent order.  We find it particularly ironic that they went to court claiming that the procedures under this Act are ‘arbitrary’, and are now seeking to say that those same procedures are so effective and sacrosanct that millions of people should be evicted on the basis of their results.

It is incredibly difficult for local communities who have long been oppressed by the state Forest Departments to secure their rights. We believe that those interested in conservation should be working to strengthen the transparency, community and democratic potential that the FRA creates – not seeking to attack forest dwellers or the law.

We reiterate the call of an open letter in 2014 to the petitioners that they should withdraw this case.  We join forest people’s organisations in calling upon the Central and State governments to seek the reversal of this unjust order, not least because it will cause immense harm to conservation.

Sincerely,

Nitin Rai, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Ravi Chellam, Wildlife Biologist & Conservation Scientist, Bengaluru.
M.D. Madhusudan, Nature Conservation Foundation
Ajit Menon, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.
Vena Kapoor, Nature Conservation Foundation
Sharachchandra Lele, Distinguished Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Harini Nagendra, Professor of Sustainability, Azim Premji University
Siddhartha Krishnan, Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Janaki Lenin, Independent Writer, Chennai
Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Senior Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Neema Pathak-Broome, Kalpavriksh
Ranjini Murali, Nature Conservation Foundation.
Samira Agnihotri, Ecologist, Bengaluru
Arupjyoti Saikia, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Aparajita Datta, Senior Scientist, Nature Conservation Foundation
Snehlata Nath, Director, Keystone Foundation
Bharath Sundaram, Assistant professor, Krea University
Nandita Hazarika, Ecosystems-India, Guwahati
Abi Tamim Vanak, Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Goutam Narayan, Ecosystems-India, Guwahati
Anindya Sinha, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
Arati Kumar-Rao, Independent Environmental Photographer and Writer
E. Somanathan, Professor, Indian Statistical Institute
Ankila Hiremath, Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
Kalyan Varma, Nature Conservation Foundation
Marianne Manuel, Dakshin Foundation
Narayan Sharma, Cotton University, Guwahati
Kartik Shanker, Indian Instutute of Science
Shashank Srinivasan, Director, Technology for Wildlife.
Rohan Arthur, Nature Conservation Foundation

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