Disclaimer: This statement was originally published on ForestRightsAct.com. RRI did not initiate this process, but has reproduced the statement here with permission on behalf of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity.

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

Nita Shashidharan, Researcher, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment

Vidya Atkore, Postdoc, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment

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