A conservation Bill that endangers forest rights

Source– The post is based on the article “A conservation Bill that endangers forest rights” published in The Hindu on 14th December 2022.

Syllabus: GS3- Environment conservation

Relevance– Issues related to wildlife protection

News– The article explains the criminalisation laws used for conservation of the ecosystem by government agencies. It also explains the impact of criminalisation on forest rights.

What is the WPA and amendment proposed in this act?

The Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972 has safeguarded numerous species of wild animals and plants by prohibiting all forms of hunting.

It has created inviolate areas where wildlife conservation may be carried out. The amendment further invests in this conception of protected areas and species by bringing in newer species to be protected.

What has been the impact of criminal laws to assist wildlife conservation through WPA?

It has led to creation of Protected Areas where conservation can be undertaken without the interference of local forest-dwelling communities. State and Forest Department control over forests would not have been possible without criminal law.

Pitting wildlife species against communities as human-animal conflict has eluded the true cost of criminalization under the WPA.

The recent move to increase penalties by four times for general violations should raise questions about the nature of policing that the WPA engenders.

A study by the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project in MP found that persons from oppressed caste communities such as Scheduled Tribes and other forest-dwelling communities form the majority of accused persons in wildlife-related crimes.

The Forest Department was found to use the threat of criminalisation to force cooperation. It used this for devising a system of using community members as informants and drawing on their loyalty by employing them on a daily wage basis. Over 95% of the cases filed by the Forest Department are still pending.

Criminal cases filed by the department are rarely compounded since they are meant to create a ‘deterrent effect’ by instilling fear in communities. Fear is a crucial way in which the department mediates governance in protected areas.

How are forest rights impacted by WPA? Forest rights as part of the Forest Rights Act were put in place to correct the injustice meted out by forest governance laws in recognising forest-dependent livelihoods.

The FRA has been made subservient to the WPA, thereby impeding its implementation.

Field work was carried out in Kanha National Park. It was noticed that individual forest rights in buffer zones of the Kanha National Park of Madhya Pradesh were recognised. The same cannot be said of collective rights. Fishing, which forms an important part of subsistence for tribal communities, has come to be regularly criminalised as part of the WPA.

Unchecked discretionary policing allowed by the WPA and other forest legislations have stunted the emancipatory potential of the FRA.

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