Church leaders and activist have welcomed the scrapping of a government order which resulted in tribal people being kicked-out of national parks containing endangered wildlife. “It is just a small step towards tribal people’s development, however we welcome the move,” Father Marianus Kujur, who heads the tribal unit of the Jesuit-managed Indian Social Institute, said today. The federal government on Saturday lifted a 2007 ban that restricted tribal people from using forest land and called for the removal of people living in areas identified as endangered wildlife habitats. Tribal groups and their supporters demanded a re-think because the policy deprived them of their livelihood and put their existence at risk. Proposed rules include wildlife habitats being identified only after consultations and the consent of tribal people living in that area. “It was very sad to see such injustice to tribal people. Their repeated pleas for their share of forest land were not met,” Father Kujur said. According to the Jesuit priest, several government policies in the name of development separated tribal people from their ancestral land, which led to displacement, migration and trafficking. The priest now wants the government show sincerity in helping tribal people living in forest reserves. The government’s new draft policy recognizes that coexistence between people and wildlife is possible, and that forest-dwelling communities should have a say in the management of parks. Mukti Prakash Tirkey, a tribal journalist, says the new policy is too late, but a welcome step. “Tribals were living in these areas long before they became parks. Their livelihood is more important than parks,” he said. He regretted that although tribal people are the original inhabitants of the forests, the government and others branded them land grabbers. “They are in fact the protectors of forests. If tribal people destroy forests they would lose their cultural identity,” he explained.
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