Amended Forest (Conservation) Act draws opposition in Nagaland

This map provided by the Nagaland Community Conserved Area Forum shows the spread and extent of community owned and conserved forest areas in Nagaland (NSBB, 2022).

This map provided by the Nagaland Community Conserved Area Forum shows the spread and extent of community owned and conserved forest areas in Nagaland (NSBB, 2022).

DIMAPUR, AUGUST 10 (MExN): The Nagaland Community Conserved Area Forum (NCCAF) and the Kezekevi Thehouba (KTB) have urged the Nagaland Government, political leaders, NGOs, student bodies, Church bodies and tribe organizations to raise their voices against the Amended Forest (Conservation) Act 2023 which was passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha last week.  

The Nagaland Community Conserved Area Forum (NCCAF) said that the Act is not in the interest of the indigenous tribal communities of Nagaland as it challenges the land and forest rights of the people who have been its custodian since time immemorial. There is huge ambiguity over the definitions and provisions of the Act, putting the rights and security of the people at stake, it stated in a press release.  

It further pointed out that in recent decades, communities in Nagaland have voluntarily come forward to take up conservation practices in their traditional ancestral lands to sustain and preserve the rich biodiversity resulting in the recognition and documentation of over 407 Community Conserved Areas in Nagaland which is one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots. “However, the provisions of the Act could jeopardise the traditional land ownership, likewise, threaten the biodiversity and the ecological security of the region,” the NCCAF said.

The Forest Conservation Amendment Act allows all forest areas within 100 kms from “Borders”  “or line of control,” or “line of actual control” for strategic projects of National importance and concerning National security, and Nagaland directly falls under these categories. 

It expressed concern that instead of encouraging the indigenous people who are voluntarily conserving the environment, this will certainly devastate their efforts. The forum said that the Act would weaken the decision and power of the State Government, undermine community ownership of land and forest, and the village councils may become voiceless. 

“This may result in the extinction of the rich biodiversity of the indigenous people, and ancestral birthright be devastated, annihilated just for the sake of development and security reasons. This will result in devastating affects on the people as well as our biodiversity,” it added.

The NCAFF cautioned that if the Act is unopposed by the people’s representatives, the ancestral forest which is the identity of the Nagas will be left for arbitrary diversion and decisions of the Central Government as it excluded obtaining prior consent from village councils and local district authorities. 

“It emphasizes that more than environmental, it is an issue of social, cultural and historical identity and hence without due process of consultation with all concerned stakeholders for such an amendment to an existing Act is undemocratic and unacceptable,” it maintained.

A press release from the KTB pointed out that “The implementation of this Act will have far reaching disastrous consequences for the State of Nagaland, as almost all the geographical area falls under this Act.” The implication of this Act means enabling corporate giants to do business in the name of development by depleting our forests and is against tribal interest, the KTB said. 

It asserted that “our land and forests inseparably define our identity in all the senses that this life- and- dignity- affirming word has come to mean to us.” “Given this indisputable reality, and the undoubted rapid realisation by the public of the sinister manner in which the Act was bulldozed through,” the KTB called upon Naga leaders to pause and take a hard look. 

It however said that despite this grim scenario, there is still a ray of hope because of Article 371A of the Constitution of India which gives special provision in respect of the state of Nagaland. The KTB hoped that the Government of Nagaland will take this opportunity to vet the applicability of the Amendment of Forest Conservation Act 2023 by convening a special Assembly session immediately.

Meanwhile, it urged the Nagaland Government to reverse the State’s reported decision to “start mono culture plantation of Palm Oil in Nagaland.” Palm Oil cultivation on such mass scale will cause the rich soil to lose its fertility and render water sources dry, amongst other ill effects, the KTB stated. “Hence this signals the devastation of bio diversity and disruption of our eco system. It has been established that a single Palm oil plant requires more than 250 litres of water per day,” the KTB said.