The discourse surrounding the controversial Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill 2023 is intensifying in Nagaland, with a united front forming against the Act. Joining the dissenting stance of The Naga Rising, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), and the Ao Senden, now the Rising People’s Party (RPP) and the Nagaland Community Conserved Area Forum (NCCAF) have unequivocally voiced their opposition to the Act.


Convene NLA without delay: RPP tells NDPP-BJP coalition

In a strong call for action, the Rising People’s Party (RPP) has urged the NDPP-BJP Coalition government to convene an immediate special session of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly. The purpose of the session would be twofold: firstly, to nullify the “Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023,” which has already passed both houses of parliament, and secondly, to swiftly address the narrative surrounding the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state.


The RPP through a press statement on Thursday demanded that the NDPP-BJP Coalition, as mandated by the people, demonstrate eagerness to protect the state from any adverse agenda that seeks to render the constitutionally protected state of Nagaland impotent with legislative measures such as the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, or the UCC, which, if implemented, would render Article 371A inconsequential.


Challenging the Chief Minister’s assertion that the bill poses no threat, the RPP stated, “There’s no excuse for the Chief Minister to make loud proclamations that the state is already protected from the adverse effects of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, or the UCC for that matter.”


The RPP also criticized the NDPP-BJP coalition for compromising on crucial issues due to fear of central fund withdrawal stating, “The ugly sequence of surrenders to majoritarian politics on quite a number of issues out of sheer cowardice or fear of the stoppage of central funds is not acceptable.”


Drawing attention to the stance taken by the “staunchly patriotic and progressive Kerala Legislative Assembly” on the UCC, the RPP questioned whether the NDPP-BJP Coalition could effectively safeguard the people from the “Central government’s onslaught” in the form of the UCC and the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023.


‘FCA an issue of Social, Cultural, and Historical Identity’
NCAAF appeals tribal organizations to take matters seriously

The Nagaland Community Conserved Area Forum (NCAAF) convened an emergency General Body Meeting on 10 August in Dimapur, during which members unanimously resolved to oppose the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023. The forum also appealed to Naga tribal organizations and village councils to take the seriousness of the matter into account.


Map of Nagaland State showing Community Conserved Areas in the state. (Image:NCAAF)


The forum urged the organizations “to do whatever they can” to stall it and take up the issue with their respective representatives, so that the issue can be taken up in the Nagaland State Legislative Assembly and that it can reassert the age-old traditional ownership of land and forests.


The forum emphasized that if unopposed, the FCA Act would allow the ancestral forest, the identity of the Nagas, to be subject to “arbitrary diversion and decisions of the Central government” as it excludes obtaining prior consent from village councils and local district authorities.


Highlighting the deeper implications, the NCAAF stated that beyond environmental implications, the issue touches upon social, cultural, and historical identity. They argue that an amendment passed without comprehensive stakeholder consultation is “undemocratic and unacceptable.”


The NCAAF underscored the jeopardy posed to land and forest rights, particularly for indigenous tribal communities that have been its custodians since time immemorial. The forum noted that there is a huge ambiguity over the definitions and provisions of the Act, putting the rights and security of the people at stake.


It reiterated that the indigenous communities have long been custodians of these lands, and those recent efforts where communities in Nagaland have voluntarily come forward to take up conservation practices in their traditional ancestral lands in order to adopt conservation practices have led to the recognition of over 407 Community Conserved Areas in Nagaland, one of world’s top biodiversity hotspots.


Discussing the Act’s exemption of forest areas within 100 km from “Borders” or “line of control,” or “line of actual control,” the forum pointed out that Nagaland directly falls under these categories due to strategic projects of national importance and security.


The forum criticized the Act’s potential to hinder indigenous conservation efforts, weaken the state government’s decision-making power, and undermine community ownership.


“The murky agenda of the FCA is that it will surely weaken the decision-making power of the state government, undermine community ownership of land and forest, and the village councils may become voiceless,” the forum said, adding that it will bring devastating effects on the people as well as the biodiversity.


The forum, therefore, urged the people to make the policymakers understand that “the greatest security today is ecological security,” given the environmental challenges of recent decades. They expressed dismay that instead of coming up with more radical steps to protect ecosystems and the people from impending ecological crises, policymakers are introducing an Act that could jeopardize the rich biodiversity indigenous communities have preserved since time immemorial.


The meeting, held on 10 August 2023 at Tourist Lodge Dimapur, was presided over by Chairman NCCAF, Mr Heirang Lungalang.


Mokokchung Times

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