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Tales from the forest    
By Kristin Ulsrud    
    Fence around a national park
India is a large and diverted country with a varying range of landscapes. The country hosts 16 per cent of the world’s population, but contains only two per cent of the world's land area. This means that it is very little space per person. This affects nature and environment. People and forests have lived in a reciprocal relation as long as there have been human beings on this planet. They have been dependent on the forest as a livelihood. The forest dwellers way of living involved several mechanisms which ensured a healthy future for the forest. As the population has increased, forest areas have decreased or become less dense.

When the British came they exploited a huge amount of timber from the Indian forests. They also implemented wildlife management models adopted from Germany and France. Huge areas were appointed as protected areas, and the governance of those was centralized. After independence the new Indian government took over the forest land and continued to govern them on a centralized basis. The forest dwellers became illegal settlers in the forest in which they have always lived. In 1972 The Wildlife Protection Act was passed and this lead to the forest dwellers being seen as a threat to the protection of wildlife.

Today there is a tension between forest dwellers and the government concerning how the resources in the forest are supposed to be used. In some cases the forest dwellers are seen as destroyers of the forest and granted no space. Many places government has planned to relocate villagers outside protected areas. As in the case of the Kankwari village in Sariska National Park living with the threat can be difficult enough. In some cases villagers living just outside the park borders are denied grazing land for their animals. This does not only have negative consequences for the villagers, but also the fauna in the park, as the example from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary depicts.

Recently the Tribal Rights Act was passed. This act is supposed to give forest dwellers, tribal and non-tribals, the rights to manage their forests. The act has not yet been implemented and there is still a long way to go.

   Photo: Anju Sharma / CSE library

Have the forest dwellers become outsiders in their own environment?

Photo: Maria I Alte


In the meantime one could ask; what would be the best way to protect the forest and simultaneously give forest dwellers benefits so they can remain in it?

Because India has such a large population and relatively little land, it is not possible to keep forest dwellers outside the forest and conserve the areas free of people, which has been the case in Europe and other countries with less dense population. What is the solution?

  Perfect harmony?
    Photo: Astrid J Svensson
4 views on forest management    
"The forest is Gods property"    
"The main problem is the villagers"    
"The biotic pressure is the biggest threat to the Indian forests today"    
"It's a curse to live in an ecologically rich area in India "