‘We have good laws, but only what benefits the bureaucracy is being implemented’

The State’s policy of rehabilitation of forests dwellers from Kudremukh National Park is unconstitutional and unlawful, said ecologist Madhav Gadgil during a meeting with tribals here on Tuesday.

This remote village Mallige Mane, about 8km from Aladangady Gram Panchayat in Belthangady taluk of Dakshina Kannda, is barely a few hillocks away from Kuthloor where an NGO worker was allegedly targeted by Maoist cadre in November last year. The contention there was that the NGO and the State government were persuading policies of rehabilitation of tribals from the National Park premises.

Mr. Gadgil, who led the now non-existent Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel on the conservation of the mountain range, believed the attempts of eviction through force or enticement ran contrary to the tenets of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, which accords rights to non-timber forest produce to those who have lived in forest land for over 75 years.

“It is government duty as per the act to explain the rights to the people. When they see the rights, forest dwellers will have a much higher level of economic well-being, and the rehabilitation package will not work,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the meet organised by the Janasangrama Parishat.

He further criticised Wildlife Expert Ullas Karanth for encouraging the rehabilitation of tribals through his NGO, and even challenged him to a “public debate” on the issue.

An angst of the forest dwellers was that basic facilities such as road, pipelines, electricity “were not getting approval” from the Forest Department in National parks.

“Facilities that take up as much as 10 hectares of land can be allowed. The decision to provide facilities lies with the forest committee of the village, which is then endorsed by the revenue official. The forest department has no role,” Mr. Gadgil told the villagers.

Activist S.R. Hiremath, who participated in the meet, called the eviction an “assault on the rights” of forest dwellers. “This amounts to depriving them of their legal rights, while leaving the forest open to smugglers,” he said.

Mr. Gadgil blamed the “bad implementation” of laws for the rampant ecological degradation in the country. “We have good laws, but only what benefits the bureaucracy is being implemented. There is no action against polluters or industries, but extreme action is taken against protesting villagers in the name of law and order,” he said.

The solution, he said, was direct democracy and self-governance by local bodies.