October 15, 2012
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
Government of India
Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh:
Greetings from all of us participating in the COP 11 in Indian city of Hyderabad and our sincere thanks for the great hospitality.
We appreciate the much needed step taken by your government in enacting the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA), restoring and recognizing the rights of the Indigenous People and other forest communities in India.
We believe that communities, the Adivasis who were the historical custodian of forests, play a crucial role in protecting the biodiversity of our mother earth, the forests, lands and water. The FRA was enacted by the Indian Parliament to undo the historical injustice committed to them and to empower the forest communities in India as stewards of the forest biodiversity. The FRA accommodates the triple objectives of CBD and encompasses its ecosystem approach. Now that India has taken over the Presidency of CBD CoP, the country has added responsibility to effectively implement this historic law.
However, we are deeply concerned, while listening to and interacting with the forest groups, about the weak and often distorted implementation of the Forest Rights Act, in particular, the consistent resistance of the officials of the forest bureaucracy towards recognising the the rights of the forest people. This is also in violation of democratic processes as enshrined in the Indian constitution like the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
We are also concerned that in the name of wildlife conservation and tiger reserves, the forest communities are being thrown out and forcibly relocated for the Protected Areas, much in violation of the same FRA. The notification of tiger reserves and their governance and management are in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act and the FRA, threatening to impact rights of scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers living in and around tiger reserves, where unregulated tourism continues unabated.
Despite legislative protection being provided by FRA and PESA forest communities, today, are losing lands and their rights when they are thrown out of their land and their land acquired without their consent for development projects such as mining, big dams and thermal power plants in total violation of the FRA and the August 2009 Notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
We, therefore, request you to please intervene to secure that:
- The forest communities get what is their long due, rights and control over their own land and resources and the FRA, PESA are being implemented in letter and spirit.
- The communities are not forcibly displaced from the Protected Areas without recognising their rights to their ancestral land and proper scientific study of critical tiger or wildlife habitats as provisioned in the WLPA and FRA.
- Diversion of forest land and displacement of forest communities due to development projects does not take place in violation of the Forest Rights Act and PESA.
- Any fast track clearance of projects and investments in violation of the FRA should be strictly avoided.
- All required measures are taken to empower the Adivasis and other traditional forest communities to protect the wildlife, forest and biodiversity and ensure ecological and cultural integrity of the habitat in line with section 5 of FRA – together with needed enabling and capacity building activities.
Continued failure in implementing FRA/PESA is bound to raise questions about India’s sincerity in honouring its various commitments on implementing the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in respect to the biodiversity, including that India is obliged:
- “Ensuring that the prior informed consent or approval and involvement of indigenous and local communities is obtained for access to genetic resources where they have the established right to grant access to such resources.” (Nagoya Protocol article 6.2.)
- To “protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use” (CBD article 10 c), including the traditional occupations and customary land use and tenure of the communities.
- To ensure full participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, recognition of their rights, and recognition of their conservation knowledge and practices (CBD’s Programme of Work on Protected Areas).
As the chair of the CBD process India needs to take a lead to show to the world, also by its own example, how these legal obligations shall be now implemented in practice in line with the previous CoP decisions in the areas where rich biodiversity is sustained by traditional use and occupation of Adivasi communities.
Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC)
German League for Nature and Environment
Timberwatch Coalition, South Africa
Friends of the Earth International
COECOCEIBA – Friends of the Earth Costa Rica
Global Forest Coalition
The ICCA Consortium
Friends of the Earth Germany
Focus on the Global South
Friends of the Earth, Finland
National Association of Professional Environmentalists NAPE, Uganda
Green Cross Society
Friends of Siberian Forests
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People
National Coastal Protection Campaign
Wetlands Foundation of India