My position on the need to re-position forests in development has invited a huge response. On the one hand are those who argue that the functions of forests already include conservation vital to life; they need to be valued and protected. The unsaid – but often stressed – corollary is that any discussion on the need to improve productivity of forests through the involvement of people needs to be shunned. The stretched and simplistic position that this view takes is that forests and people cannot go together. One letter writer has even argued passionately that the government should think of taking over – buying out – large areas of forests from people and then protecting them for future generations. On the other hand are those who argue for further engagement of people with forests.
The discussion on this matter is deeply polarised. The two sides are at war, in which both forests and wildlife are the losers. But let me stress again that the stalemate in the forest policy is not tenable.
With each passing day, the constituency for forest protection is shrinking. And this is when forest land in India is under a big threat — not necessarily from the people living in forests but from developers who want the land, minerals, water and other resources. Over time, the infrastructure imperative will take away forests, which have become the only “free” and “available” resource in the time of scarcity. The demand to open up forests will grow.