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Monday, December 26, 2011

Formulation of Wildlife Protection Act and Opinion of Indigenous Peoples

Formulation of Wildlife Protection Act and Opinion of Indigenous Peoples

The government has recently initiated passage of a fresh law styled “Wildlife Protection Bill-2010” by scrapping the present the Wildlife Protection Order-1973. Though the bill of this law was approved in the cabinet, but the government has not consulted with the indigenous communities who are generally depended on forest and the adivasis living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and other areas of the country.
The adivasis heavily reliant on the forest resources and its rich biodiversity for their livelihoods. Therefore, seeking opinions of the forest-dependent people was very important for bringing any changes in the existing law on wildlife protection or cancellation of the 1973 law.
The Section 53 of the CHT Regional Council Act-1998 stipulates the government to consult the CHT Regional Council for bringing any changes in the existing forest laws. Because, the CHT is one of biggest forest areas of the country. But the government has not approached the CHT Regional Council to give their opinions. Thirteen adivasi communities live in the hill tracts and their survival is largely dependent on the forest and the rich biodiversity.
As a result, the legislative proposals including the definitions of the offences in the proposed law have not included any explanation or analysis on the social, cultural, traditional practices and everyday lives of the indigenous peoples. Rather the bill, now under the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment and Forest, contains some anti-adivasi contents. For instance, Section 2 of the bill is particularly goes against the social, cultural, traditional practices and everyday lives of the indigenous peoples (adivasis).
The bill, if passed in parliament, would definitely narrow the scope of livelihood of forest-centered indigenous communities living in the CHT and other areas of the country.
The proposed law frames definition of the crimes or offences which are not consistent with the lives and livelihood of adivasi people. A careful analysis of the definitions strengthens the fear that the new law would authorize the forest protectors or the government authorities to harass the adivasi communities anytime if they desire.
The Section 2 of the Bill contains a wide-ranging definition of the wildlife and forest-related offences and crimes and the expanded definitions would encourage the forest officials or the officials in-charge of the wildlife protection to misuse the authority against the adivasi communities living inside or outside the forest by filing false cases. The forest or the wildlife protectors can easily bring any criminal charges against any innocent people forcing them to leave their homesteads. The consequences of the new could be more dangerous than the present forest law which frequently used for harassing the adivasi community or other Bengali people near the forest areas.
This Section 2 of the Bill includes 87 definitions of crimes and offences. But there is no definition or specification of the phrase ‘forest-dependent and traditional rights’ referred to in the Section 17(2). Implementation of the law is sure to face complication unless ‘forest-dependent and traditional rights’ is defined in the Bill, and make the government commitment to protect the traditional rights of the adivasi communities meaningless.
Again, the Bill should include the term ‘adivasi (indigenous) communities’ in addition to the term ‘forest-dependent’ communities. Because, the life and livelihoods of the adivasi communities are inseparable from the forest.
The Section 17 (1) has declared the water bodies into sanctuaries. Even a six-feet deep pond is a sanctuary, according to the definition of crimes or offences set in the Section 2. Therefore, the authorities can easily stop any resident or the adivasi communities from going to the water bodies for livelihood and household purposes.
The Section 2(20) will also stop the adivasi communities in the CHT from collecting trees, bamboo, straw and other wood items for domestic purposes from the social forest areas, which has been brought under the definition of protected forest. The Section 27 will empower the government to declare a forest as an area with special biodiversity banning the adivasi communities’ access to that forest.
The Section 28 will also authorise the government to declare an area as national, traditional, memorial, sacred or protected forest. Besides, the draft has not defined the phrase ‘traditional, cultural, social and preservation values to the local communities’ raising the possibility of misuses.
The Section 2(32) has furnished a wider definition of trophies and the definitions are inconsistent with the social and traditional practices followed by the majority of the adivasi communities in the CHT. For instance, the Bawm, the Pangkhua, the Lushai, the Mro and the Khiyang adivasi communities are hunters by their traditions. Traditionally, they collect hide, teeth, horns and bones after hunting the animals. They decorate their houses with the items. They have been nurturing the traditions for centuries.
Snail is a very popular dish for the adivasi communities in the CHT. They, especially those living in the remote villages, pick snail from the water bodies and use the inside stuff as food leaving the shell nearby their homesteads.
The proposed law (Section 45) has stipulated that anyone picking snail from the water bodies will face arrest. Again they can face imprisonment for three to seven years as per the section 49 coupled with a fine of Tk 200,000 to Tk 500,000.
The aforesaid factors justify the demand for revisiting the government decision to enact the proposed law. The environment ministry should pass the law addressing the probable fear of the adivasi communities.
The government should honor the CHT Regional Council Act-1998 and invite opinion of the council. Besides, the government should consult with adivasi communities in the CHT and plain lands before its passage in parliament with a view to making the proposed law into an effective instrument of wildlife protection. At the same time, the new law must protect the social, cultural and traditional rituals of the adivasi communities and be in harmony with the everyday life and livelihood of the adivasi communities.
The Bill lacks guarantee for the protection of the diversified livelihoods, culture and traditional rituals of the adivasi communities involving the forest. It must properly address the socio-economic, cultural and traditional affairs of the adivasi communities. [This opinion was prepared by 8-member technical committee led by Advocate Jnanendu Bikash Chakma formed by CHT civic society in January 2011].
It has been learnt that World Bank will provide Tk 254 crore as a loan to Bangladesh to protect the tiger and other wildlife in the country. The World Bank will be providing the loan support under its regional cooperation strengthening project to conserve wildlife. The programme will address the development of 23 wildlife animal saving zone and ecotourism facilities, forming wild life animal crime prevent unit in airport, container port and sea ports and developing the habitats of wild animals. 

courtesy: Kapaeeng Foundation

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