In a significant development, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (Wildlife Division) has withdrawn Revised Guidelines issued on February 7 for determination of Critical Wildlife Habitats, which had created anxiety among the tribal community across the country.
In a communication dated March 4 addressed to all the Chief Wildlife wardens in the country, Deputy Inspector-General (WL) Prakriti Srivatsa said the decision to withdraw Revised Guidelines was taken in view of representations made on technical, scientific, social and ecological issues related to the process of identification and notification of Critical Wildlife Habitats and the consequent process of relocation of people from such areas.
He added that the Ministry had organised a meeting with the officials of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, State and Union Territory Governments and the representatives of scientific and civil organisations on March 4 to discuss the Revised Guidelines. Taking note of their concerns, the Ministry had decided to withdraw the guidelines and has initiated the process of creating new guidelines.
Tribal leaders had described the Revised Guidelines as the death knell for over 3.5 lakh tribal people in 1,500 haadi and podus (settlements) in nine districts in the State.
They felt it killed the very spirit of the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006.
Srikanth, coordinator, Development Through Education (DEED), said had the Ministry not withdrawn the guidelines, the Forest Act 2006 might have lost its significance as tribal people would have been forced to relinquish their right over their land and the use of forest produce. “In a way, it is a victory of the tribal community, as the Forest Department has to consult the gram sabha before declaring an area as Critical Wildlife Habitat and before displacing the tribal families,” he said.
Delighted by the decision of the Ministry, C. Made Gowda, secretary of Jilla Budakattu Abhivruddhi Sangha, which is fighting against eviction of tribal people from the Biligiriranganabetta Tiger Reserve and had appealed to the Prime Minister to intervene in the matter, said the development would provide relief to the anxious tribal community as the revised guideline was an attempt to subvert the Forest Rights Act.