Women Resist CAMPA Bill for its Devastating Potential[1]

Unpacking the Bill: Gender Concerns

The CAMPA Bill is premised on two flawed assumptions –firstly that the diversion of lands from forest to non-forest use is inevitable and necessary for the project of the development and progress of the nation, and its compensatory afforestation methods will serve to ameliorate the adverse impacts of deforestation. The second flawed assumption is that forest conservation, protection and management is a task best accomplished by the state through its Forest Department rather than through the already established and constitutionally formed decentralized gender inclusive institutional framework provided by the Forest Rights Act 2006[2].  This note is an effort to highlight the likely adverse gender and community/equity fallouts of such an approach. Our effort is directed towards highlighting the merits of a people centred partnership framework for (Gender) inclusive and decentralized and democratic implementation of forest management, including diversion and compensatory forestry within the framework of FRA 2006. 

Recognition of the fact that forest communities –dependent and those living forest embedded lives for centuries as their traditional modes of living and flourishing - provide the best rationale for a sustainable approach to forest management and protection.  Arguments of development, infrastructure and public purpose are given to rationalize the resource generation from the charges levied for forest land diversion to be utilized by the Forest Department. Numerous evidences including the recent CAG report (2013) indict the same department for its tardy management of forests, deterioration in forest quality/canopy and area under forest cover has been steadily declining under its  raj. A multitude of reports and studies also point to its flawed forest management practices, its problematic attitudes towards forest dwellers, especially targeting women as a means to oppress communities and its nexus with commercial profiteers. (Please help me with references here from various states)    

The CAMPA Bill clearly elucidates its agenda as reflected in its priorities for reporting:  

“(I) The number and location of each reforestation, afforestation and conservation activity; t (ii) The amount and location of lands in hectares, cleared, conserved and planted in connection with the activity; with no mention of the nature of such lands cleared and people and species dislocated, including the displacement of people and (iii) The amount of afforestation money collected and expended” as the main content of the State Authority proposed in the Act “. (CAMPA bill as passed by Lok Sabha, section 28, line 40-45). A gender and grounded view of these actions begs a qualitative view of the numbers, the measures available and taken for people displaced by afforestation as well as by destruction for which compensation is sought; the quantum of land needed and the cost outlays are indicated in the recent spurt in the revenues from such deforestation and afforestation activities and payments of Net Present Value. Irrespective of quality and whether these measures are ecologically appropriate, the provisions of the CAmPA bill begs the question about the states view of its citizens and its natural resource heritage even as it plans to control such vast potential of resources through one stroke of legislation. Reflected in the CAMPA legislation is a technical modality of afforestation, deforestation and fiancés as if it were a mere jugglery of budget heads and accounting methods rather than implicative of a significant and adverse environmental sutaibiltiy and climate (adaptation) footprint. 

The CAMPA bill seeks to empower the Forest Department of the Government at the state and national level through the creation of a new cadre of institutions to administer this process of collecting the revenues of compensation from ‘user agencies’, towards compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value, catchment area treatment plan or any money for compliance of conditions stipulated by the Central Government…” managing these revenues for expenditures they consider appropriate. Further it stipulates that “the monies received towards net present value and penal net present value shall be used for artificial regeneration (plantation), assisted natural regeneration, forest management, forest protection, forest and wildlife related infrastructure development, wildlife protection and management, supply of wood and other forest produce saving devices and other allied activities in the manner as may be prescribed; (point 6.b ) All this through a new machinery for administering  these resources, without consideration to the existing machineries within the legal framework of the land, which have already been established for the purpose under FRA . The FRA now provides the rights and authority to the Gram Sabhas and forest rights holders to protect, conserve, regenerate and manage community forest resources. Therefore the proposed actions under the CAMPA Bill such as eco-regeneration, afforestation etc fall under the decision making authority of thee Gram Sabhas. The CAMPA Bill in the present form is completely silent about the FRA, the legal rights of Adivasis and forest dwellers and the authority of the Gram Sabhas signifying its deliberate ignorance of FRA , which forest officials have resisted for over a decade and sought every means to obstruct claims and assertion of CFR rights by the Gram Sabhas.  

Arguments for the CAMPA Legislation are positioned as a mere formality for transparency and good governance,(refer an interview on Rajya Sabha TV last year and in the preamble of the Bill) to bring what was already happening through office orders and guidelines into a legal framework, and to clarify the process to manage the large sums of resources collected for compensatory afforestation; However the proposed mechanism for management of funds which propose transfer of huge fund to forest department controlled institutions is contrary to the democratic and transparent framework of governance by Gram Sabhas proposed under FRA ..So in effect the CAMPA Bill instead of brining good governance will actually strengthen the already centralized and corrupt regime of forest bureaucracy. Those protesting the resistance to the CAMPA Bill as anti- tribal would do well to acknowledge the Forest Rights Act and locate the discussion for forest Management within the ambit of that law rather than creating an alternative superstructure under the control of the FD. 

FRA creates legal space for women to represent in the Gram Sabhas /Forest Rights Committees and be a part of the decision making process to claim and assert community forest resource rights. The law reinforces and strengthens the pioneering role played by women in conservation and management of forests as part of community based forest management initiatives in different parts of India for example in CFM initiatives in Odisha, Van Panchayats in Uttarakhand. While women’s roles remain in the informal rather than formal structures of management and decision making, their representation has been enhanced significantly over the past few years through campaigns and efforts of community based organizations and peoples movements . The CAMPA bill bodes the possibility of subverting the authority of the Gram Sabhas and the role of women in CFR governance and management by imposing the authority of the forest department to carry out plantation and afforestation.
 
Deliberate Denial: turning a blind eye to customary law and governance systems, to provisions of the FRA and to the needs and rights of forest dependant and forest dwelling communities.

It was precisely to address the shortcomings of the prevalent structures and processes of forest governance in the country, moulded in a colonial authoritarian ‘custodial’ framing manifested in mono-cultural and commercial forestry practices, and to correct the “historical injustices” of denial of rights to Forest dwellers and OTFDs that the Forest Rights Act was passed as legislation in 2006, setting in motion the establishment of a process of recognition and strengthening community forest governance through community embedded institutional frameworks. The FRA 2006 for the first time recognized and acknowledged that Adivasi and other forest dweller communities (OTFDs)  have for centuries managed their resources and ways of ecological living and are therefore best suited with the requisite knowledge and knowhow in its minute localized nuance to manage their forest resources and determine their protection and management themselves. The FRA Act also provides for a recognition of women in their individual rights as joint rights holders to the forest rights as well as in community forests. The strength of the FRA and its significance lies in its decentralized and devolved institutional structures that empower communities and create space for women in significant numbers, at least a third of the committee’s membership, to participate in the management of forests and forest resources.  Similarly, structures have been created at block and district and state levels to implement the Act and to ensure a grounded structure to the devolution of forest rights as a basic right for forest dwellers and dependent communities.    

The proposed CAMPA Legislation ignores all these progressive measures that acknowledge the existence of pre-existing rights of a large number of people - men, women and children - who live in and from the forest, whose livelihoods depend on the forests and their abundance, and their customary ecologically embedded and evolving practices of forest based livelihoods, forest management and environmental sustainability.  It does not also recognize the role that women have played within communities to manage resources, nor does it consider it desirable to seek the representation of communities, including men and women, in the proposed institutions in the bill except in tokenistic numbers in the executive committee at state level (two representatives of NGOs and two PRI representatives and one tribal representative in a committee of 21 people with no gender norms stipulated.

The structures proposed by the CAMPA bill to expend the vast funds amounting to Rs. 42,000 crores and more comprising the revenues accumulated from compensation and forest diversion consist of a top heavy, forest department dominated, bureaucratic structure with representation of only “one tribal expert” and no provision for representation of women anywhere, nor communities at the national level authorities proposed to be formed. These authorities proposed to meet every six and three months at National and State levels respectively bode an unfettered functioning to the new Authorities within the FD, with a potentially devastating lack of attention to concerns of women and communities on the ground and reflect an authoritarian centralised structure and vision for forest management contrary to the interests of people whose livelihood depend on forests. It does not auger well for resolving the impasse and rising turn of conflict in these dense forest regions either, where it is likely to lead to a spurt in aggressive state driven diversion and violent contestations, the brunt of which is borne by the women from all parties.

Obfuscating the Forest Dweller Citizen

Lives of people especially tribal, forest dependent and hill communities, are closely and intricately connected with the forests and most of the work relating to agriculture, agro-forestry, forestry, minor forest reduce collection, livestock rearing, fuel wood and fodder collection as well as eco regeneration and protection of plants and species through traditional practices is being done by men and women, but mostly by women. The quality of forest and its regeneration influences not only availability of forest resources but also the quality of agriculture, and forest food availability. It impacts the work load of women through access to appropriate resources for bio mass collection, composting, preparation of ground and soil quality, food availability etc; it serves as a sustainable solution to prevention of forest fires, and availability of fodder for animals and of appropriate biomass and compost for fields. Women perform several tasks related to environmental services through the discrete selection, protection, nurturance and rotation etc.., practices in forest areas to ensure their livelihoods along with sustainability of forests. Ignoring women and community roles and denying representation of women and their communities in critical spaces of decision making related to forest management and conservation can lead to devastating impacts as is evident in the increasing incidents of landslides, forest fires and soil erosion (for example the recent occurrences in Uttarakhand). The violence of forest destruction is likely to only get further accentuated with the imposition of a commercial centralised footprint of forestry which gives no consideration to local, ecological nuance and do not involve local communities in their strategies.

It is women from forest dependent communities who primarily bear the wrath and violence of the forest department in their quest for access to forest resources, and they have been at the forefront in challenging the arbitrary diversion of forest lands and exposing the wanton afforestation measures that are undertaken in various parts of the country forests, exposing them for their flawed approach. They have also exposed the Forest department officials for their connivance with the timber mafia and for their underhand dealings and for denial of rights to communities to minor forest produce and dried wood. Given these evidences, and the fear of corrosion of its authority over the vast tracts of its ‘jagirs’, it is only too clear why the forest department seeks to establish itself as the final and only word to determine the use of resources accruing into the ‘public account ‘so created to utilize the resources gathered from compensatory forestry and through recoveries of ‘net present value’.

A point to be noted is that the CAMPA bill has ignored Kanchan Chopra Committee report instituted by the supreme court of India to fix net present value to be recovered from forest diversion as compensation and to be shared with communities, and instead only focusses on over empowering the forest bureaucracy. Through such provisions the CAMPA bill reflects an attempt to divert the discourse away from the ecological context of forests and forest people into the realm of financial management and technical fixes as the exclusive domain of forest bureaucracies at all levels, ignoring the intrinsic value of forests in their cultural, material and ecological dimensions for people, and a need for people and women centred approach to address this problem.

Denial of Basic Rights to Life and Livelihoods

By enacting a legislation such as the CAMPA in its present form, the state would undermine the rights to forests to communities under the Forest Rights Act 2006, and instead investing empowering the FD with greater resources and leverage over forest and forest lands; the issue of a diversion of forest lands to other uses, the allocation of alternate land for compensatory forestry (including gauchar lands, common lands etc ) and the nature of activities undertaken thereupon are all decisions that through this one stroke of legislation dislocate  the  forests and their management from realm of the peoples knowledge and inherited wisdom  into the realm of experts and governmental actors, for whom the ecological value of the forests holds little significance except for its commercial benefit.

In so doing our worthy legislators stand to undermine the right to life and livelihoods of more than a tenth of the population of our nation, who live in forest embedded ecologically enduring environments for the most part and subsist on these resources, as well as sustain these environments, even as they are increasingly threatened by the interventions of the modernizing mainstream economy. One would imagine that our law makers would respect the right of such communities to have a voice in the governance of their lives and resources; their systems of collective governance, extremely sophisticated in parts and rudimentary in others depending upon the complexity of the resource to be managed on the one hand and the heterogeneity of the community on the other, has been in practice for centuries through their customary forums. The structural shortcomings of gender exclusion in decision making of such forums has been addressed and corrected in the FRA. In circumventing the role of the communities altogether in the CAMPA Bill, and investing all authorities in the architecture of the FD, the message is clearly one of the domination of a state driven to harness/plunder the resources at the cost of the wellbeing of forest dwellers and the sustainability of their habitats. The creation of compensatory forests deny environmental services to the communities who have lived off the rich ecological biodiversity of their primary forest habitats, but these are seldom considered in the environmental approaches of the forest department. Communities depend on forest habitats for the sustenance of their material, cultural and symbolic and spiritual existence in environments that have nurtured their people for centuries in ecology of abundance, such that even today communities tell us that all that they wish to source from the outside is salt[3]. This way of life of the Adivasis of a pragmatic subsistence ecological living, will in all likelihood be destroyed for the creation of developmental temples of modernity. Instead of viewing the merit of such practices and ecological systems as imperative to a long term solution of climate goals in our world, these practices and the knowledge thereof would in all probability be relegated to extinction or displaced to primitive obscurity.

In chapter II 6.d the CAMPA bill mentions that the Fund will be used to facilitate voluntary relocation from protected areas. This feature contradicts the provision of the FRA that there can be no relocation without the consent of the Gram Sabhas well as without first exploring possibility of co-existence of right holders. The CAMPA Bill needs to adhere to provisions of FRA act and rules including amended rules in order to uphold the principles of justice and democratic governance in the case of  relocation of any community from their ancestral lands, we know that women are the worst impacted and the relocations should be avoided except in dire circumstances. In fact the bill needs to contain an overriding statement to the effect that it will be implemented within the framework of provision of FRA in order to safeguard livelihoods, ensure justice, promote equity and safeguards rights of forest communities.

Authoritarian Violent Paradigm of Neoliberalism

CAMPA represents a model of state driven neo –liberal authoritarian growth that puts to question the intention of the state viz a viz the status of Adivasis and PVTGs and OTFDs as equal citizens, especially the women as citizens- entitled to voice, and basic rights and to representation of their interests in the processes of decision making spaces at all levels and to the determination of the nature of change and progress they envision for their societies. Neo liberalism postures to be the handmaiden of the market, but is in effect an instrument of state abdication of its role as the guardian of wellbeing of its citizens, vanquishing the control over services to the market, whereby all services are privatized gradually.

The engagement of women among tribal and forest dwelling communities has been the backbone of the resistance to the imposition of ill-conceived and inappropriate measure for forestry under schemes such as the Ama Jungle Yojna in Orissa. It is they who have effectively been the environmental warriors, and protected the forests in their vicinity from the destruction and plunder that state and private agencies have sought to bring upon the forests for their profit.  In over-empowering the forest Department, as a note of the CSD says, their dominance over forest resources and forest decisions is likely to create a deeper wave of violence and oppression for Adivasi women and women among OTFDs and PVTG populations, as they are at the forefront of the daily tedium of interface with the forests, for collection of fuel wood, fodder and minor forest produce. In assigning greater power to the forest bureaucracy – financial and jurisdictional-the possibility of denying women access and the use of force against them for claiming forest areas as their domain may become even more rampant, and women may be punished and criminalized for no other reason than the fact that they struggle to provide the basic necessities for the survival of households. When forests are diverted, depleted or enclosed, it is the women who must seek another location, or find means to manage to make insidious inroads into the prohibited areas, and they will increasingly be at the receiving end of the violence that is likely to get unleashed/ perpetrated and is already being experienced/witnessed in the case of Chattisgarh and in Kandamal (Orissa)  (please give appropriate reference)

The fundamental question that arises is whether it is appropriate or judicious to invest in the forest departments authoritarian methods or to recognize and strengthen democratic decentralized gender inclusive governance institutions already created under the FRA 2006 and empower them to make decisions and manage protect and conserve forest resources as well as to determine the norms of compensatory forestry and utilization of its revenues etc. For these structures to be functional and effective in a way that forest dwellers and forest sustainability are ensured, empowering the forest dwellers –men and women- to represent their interests and manage and imagine their institutions to negotiate and build such capacities for their future is imperative.

As it stands the CAMPA bill has the alarming potential to undermine the existing FRA legislation and is likely to derail any semblance of decentralized democracy expressed in their slogan “maximum governance, minimum government” espoused by the Modi government. It stands as an ominous symbol of states intent to authoritatively dispense with any resistance or dissent to its vision for appropriation of natural resources to service the demands of fast growing economy .Community ,its well-being, livelihood and the shadow of an impending climate crisis are issues that can apparently be set aside  in the burgeoning anxiety and haste to take India into an upward spiral of growth, at the cost of lives and livelihoods of its tribal and forest dwelling people and its ecological wellbeing. This bill is designed to serve the interests of private and state hegemonic accumulation and to negate the citizenship and human rights of a large section of its population. Its ramifications will however be felt in the middle and long term not only by those who are impacted immediately in the denial of life and livelihoods in the forest but also by the nation at large in terms of its likely impact on ecology and climate and growing disparities, with greater displacement. For women at the frontiers of forest governance these implications are a fatal blow to the patterns of existence and will render them and their communities as environmental refugees.

We call upon the legislature and the executive to consider as primary the needs priorities and practices and wisdom of local communities to manage protect and conserve forest and for the forest department to heed and work in partnership with forest dweller women and their communities as enshrined in the forest right act for a sustainable future based on justice and equity for all.


[1] Soma KP, Reetu Sogani, Sharanya Nayak and Sanghamitra Dubey and Tushar Dash have co-authored this paper on behalf of the MAHILA KISAN ADHIKAAR MANCH  (MAKAAM) AND COMMUNITY FOREST RIGHTS LEARNING AND ADVOCACY PROCESS - GENDER SUB GROUPMAKAAM network and CFR LA Gender Sub Group process. Any factual errors are of the authors alone. We apologise for these and seek your feedback.  

[2] FRA: full title of the Act is The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

Reported in note from Vasundhara field work in Odisha July 2016Type your paragraph here.

MAHILA KISAN ADHIKAAR MANCH

Forum For Women Farmers' Rights

Forum For Women Farmers' Rights