The 2nd Annual Conference of the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW) commenced here with hundreds of delegates deliberating on diverse issues ranging from community control of forests, environmental politics and livelihood, privatisation of forests - role of International Financial Institutions and future of forest communities, and challenges before the youth.
NFFPFW members from 16 states converged at Dr. Vinayan Nagar after the massive rally yesterday, when over 15,000 marched to the Jharkhand Governor's Residence and demanded the immediate passing of the Forest Bill 2005. Medha Patkar from the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Dr. Ram Dayal Munda, Former Vice Chancellor of Ranchi University addressed the public meeting, amongst others.'
The challenge before our movement is formidable it is to reverse existing legislation and bring in progressive policies that recognize the right of communities over forests', said NFFPFW Convenor Ashok Choudhry.
The Forum has identified the passing of the Forest Bill 2005 as one of the key milestones in achieving this aim. The Bill is in a draft stage and is expected to be tabled in the Parliament in the upcoming winter session. During a workshop deliberating on the nature of the Forest Rights Bill, delegates came up with innovative suggestions. For instance, it was suggested that land rights should belong to the community rather than to individuals, who could be coerced or lured into selling their land. The need for forest dwellers to organize to process and market forest produce was also stressed.
Another point on which delegates were unanimous was the need for the indigeneous peoples' perception of forests as a resource to be incorporated into the legislation.
'The forest department perceives the forest only as trees whereas we see it as an entire network of symbiotic livelihood systems, not just for humans but also for non-human life-forms,' asserted Suryamani, a grassroots tribal activist from the Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan.
The Forum rejected the World Bank funded Community Forest Management (CFM) project in Madhya Pradesh. 'The World Bank project is part of a large strategy of handing over forests to big business for carbon trading and 'production' said Madhuri of the Jagrut Adivasi Dalit Sanghtan. The World Bank has been trying to push this project through mechanisms such as the tripartite stakeholder approach which has been rejected by the Sanghatan. 'Unfortunately the Government refuses to listen to peoples' groups and is acting as an agent of big business', she added.