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COMMUNITY LEADERS TO TAKE CHARGE OF FOREST GOVERNANCE

RANCHI: The 2nd Annual Conference of the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers concluded with a unanimous resolution to bring community leaders from various forest movements into the forefront of the national struggle for achieving community control over forests. NFFPFW sees this as an historic juncture for the forest movement in the country and recognized the importance of bringing women and youth into the decision making process.

Speaking on the importance of people-friendly legislation on forest issues, NFFPFW national convenor Ashok Choudhury said that while the immediate demand of the conference is the passing of the Forest Rights Bill 2005 as amended by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), the bill is only a first step in the direction of a more comprehensive legislation on the issue of forests which will involve restructuring of the entire forest policy with a focus on people rather than the state.

"It is of utmost importance to the movement to bring the traditionally disenfranchised forest communities into the mainstream of national politics, if we want to achieve our aim of a comprehensive legislation," said Choudhury, adding, " Community leaders must engage themselves beyond their local and regional areas of influence into the national arena, and the movement recognizes this as a long and challenging process."

Key strategic demands and campaigns identified by the conclave include:

· All negotiations on forest issues must be carried out between the government and the forest people. NFFPFW rejects any of intermediary mechanisms such as the World Bank supported Multi-stakeholder dialogue process that gives industry unwarranted access to forest resources.

· A moratorium on entry of International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) into the forestry sector through projects such as monoculture plantations in poplar and eucalyptus. The campaign against plantations would take on both on domestic and foreign companies.

· A focus on alternatives in community forest control. The Forum will consider evolving processes such as collective agriculture and people's forest produce cooperatives. Cultural expression was seen as crucial to building resistance and organizational strength.

· In the event of the stalling of the Forest Rights Bill 2005 in the forthcoming session of the Parliament, the NFFPFW proposes local actions against the Forest Department through dharnas and gheraos at local offices. Recapturing of land usurped from forest communities under various projects will also form part of the proposed actions.

The Forum also recognized that the fight for forests cannot be an isolated struggle of forest groups alone. The need for creating alliances and joint strategies with diverse groups such as the fisherfolk movement, landless peoples' movements, urban marginalized groups such as slum dwellers & artisans, Dalit & Adivasi movements, pasbandha(marginalized minority goups)), environmental groups, anti-mining groups and trade unions was emphasized. 'The process of alliance building and supporting local forest movements, which the NFFPFW had started in the central belt has now also been extended to states like Arunachal Pradesh in the North East, said Bamang Anthony of Arunachal Citizens' Right (ACR). Anthony was among several delegates in solidarity from across the country who attendend the 3-day meeting. There were representatives from various movements in Bangladesh, UK, Germany, Spain to provide their solidarity to the struggle.

'We strongly resist commodification of forests in any and every form', concluded Choudhury.