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NGO mobilises opposition to forest bill

Guwahati, July 14: Early Birds, a wildlife NGO, has called upon the Northeast MPs to oppose the proposed Scheduled Tribes and Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, saying it has no perceived benefits for the forest dwellers.

Early Birds president Moloy Baruah said under the bill, the Centre plans to distribute title deeds of land to encroachers of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, protected areas and reserved forests, especially to those who settled inside these demarcated areas prior to the implementation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.

He said the bill would sound the death knell for the unique bio-diversity of the Northeast and its conservation efforts. It would neither promote forest conservation nor deliver social justice.

He said the forest dwellers should be offered appropriate relocation and settlement rights outside the protected areas and in areas where basic infrastructure facilities like roads, electricity, water supply and access to education and health care are available. 'Despite the massive expenditure incurred, development of basic infrastructure has been marginal in rural India, especially in the forest region, compared to the urban and semi-urban areas.'

Baruah said even the distribution of land to genuine forest dwellers would have no positive benefits as it would not improve the quality of their lives. Most of them do not have sufficient resources to improve the productivity of the land and might indulge in jhum-type of cultivation.

Baruah said conferring community rights is preferable to individual rights so that there is a joint stake in forest conservation and regeneration of its green cover.

He appealed to the MPs to lobby for an alternative package for the forest dwellers so that they can be rehabilitated and integrated with the mainstream of society, while maintaining community forestry and the sacred groves. He also made a case for the optimum utilisation of marginalised land for the common benefit of all the stake holders.

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