Impact of new forest law in India unknown
December 21, 2006
A new law giving land rights to millions of poor Indian forest dwellers is stirring debate in the conservation community according to a report from Reuters.
On Monday lawmakers approved the Recognition of Forest Rights Bill 2006, a law that grants land ownership rights to Indians who live in the country's forests. Supporters of the legislation that it will create accountability among forest users, while critics argue the bill will trigger abuse and exploitation of forest lands by allowing new "encroachers" to lay claim to such areas.
"Entire forest village communities will actually now ensure that no one in their community is involved in poaching and other illegal activities as they could all face penalties," Reuters quoted Nitin Sethi of the Center of Science and Environment think-tank as saying.
"How do you prove your family was there for generations?" Reuters quoted Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India as saying. "Lots of people will take advantage of this and our fear is that more people will mean more poaching and more destruction of the natural habitat of wildlife such as tigers,"
The report notes that India was home to about 40,000 tigers a century ago, a number that has been reduced to 1,200-3,700 today by poaching and habitat loss.
Forest covers about 23 percent of India, but less than half of this is classified as "modified natural" forest and very little is considered "old-growth" forest according to the U.N. While India has had a net increase in forest cover in recent years, this results from the establishment of low-biodiversity plantations that do not support tigers or other endangered wildlife.
This article used quotes and information from Reuters.
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