Stop fragmentation of forests, says Wildlife First

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New Delhi, Nov 11: Expressing its opposition to the Forest Rights Act, a Wildlife conservation body has made a strong plea for stopping fragmentation of forests which's it said would further intensify with the implementation of the law.

NGO Wildlife First says activities relating to human settlements, agriculture, livestock-raising and developmental projects will have to be reduced to stop forest fragmentation which posing a great threat to the survival of many species.

In its response to the 'Second Open Letter' posted by Campaign for Survival and Dignity, which is advocating for forest dwellers rights, Wildlife First said fragmentation occurs when landscape continuity is broken, forests shrink into smaller patches to become honeycombed with settlements, and connectivity gets eroded.

''We must now begin to de-fragment forests, not increase their fragmentation further as the Forest Rights Act sets out to achieve', it said.

The Campaign had in its open letter said the arguments in the NGO's affidavit to the Supreme Court were an attempt to use law to cloak ''a deeply elitist, repressive and authoritarian model of conservation" that has caused immense harm both to forest dwellers and to conservation itself.
The Campaign has also alleged that the Government while making rules for the Forest Rights Act, had diluted its provision under the pressure of the wildlife lobby.

Wildlife First said that for a long time after the first prehistoric humans from Africa set foot in India (about 60,000 years ago), ecological conditions that are assumed as a fundamental premise of the Forest Rights Act prevailed at least broadly, but this premise has not held true for centuries now, as axe and plough have replaced jungles with farms.

Fragmentation and its consequences have followed, leaving today just about 10 per cent land area under somewhat natural looking forests (by no means all intact), about 3.5 per cent of it under designated nature reserves with perhaps less than 1 per cent of the land still possessing a reasonable complement of plants and animals that once thrived over much of the subcontinent.

However, Wildlife First holds that these ecological arguments pointing out the adverse impacts of the Act in no way negate the need for addressing the core issue of redressing past injustices and current aspirations of tribal forest dwellers.

They have been brutalised by both the insensitive forest department and by the even more inept revenue and tribal welfare departments who largely serve the interests of more dominant caste groups, it said.

''Let us not forget that after independence, under India's revenue land grant rules, an even greater wooded area than proposed under this Act was actually parcelled out in exactly similar inalienable land grants to millions of people.

It is a matter of record that most of this inalienable land was promptly grabbed by higher caste farmers, miners, loggers, eco-tourism operators and other powerful social forces,'' said the NGO in its reply to the forest dwellers rights body.


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