Former MP calls for honouring tribals’customary rights to protect forest

IMPHAL, 27th May: Tribal Youth Council Manipur (TYCM) conducted a seminar on Tribal Rights & Forest at Tribal Research Institute, Chingmeirong on Saturday. In his inaugural speech as the chief guest, former Lok Sabha MP Mani Charenamei noted the significance of forests in the lives of tribals and how they were sustained by forests before the inception of modern civilization.

Observing that National Forest Act instead of protecting forests has only benefitted colonial powers, Charenamei pointed out that a National Forest Policy was formulated in 1988. But without honouring the customary practices and rights of tribals, one cannot protect forest, he added. The former MP asserted that it is essential for the government to include tribals in guarding and protecting forest. The condition of forest in the state is rapidly deteriorating, he said, attributing it to the failure of enforcing the policies and laws formulated for protecting forest properly. He also called for respecting the customary rights of tribals to ensure that they remain protected. In his presidential speech, TYCM president Tolkham Maring pointed out that forest has always provided a source of livelihood to tribals as they hunt, catch fish, use forest products and cultivate crops to receive their daily needs. All of these indicate that tribals survive only because of forest, he said.

It is globally recognised that those who survive by depending on forest play the most crucial role in protecting forest. Moreover, the Tribal Rights Act, 2006 and other similar Acts have made it clear that tribals have ownership over the land where they settle, he explained, while lamenting that no one acknowledges these facts. Tribals are facing various difficulties due to such reasons, Tolkham said while expressing fear that the future generations have to live in their own land as if they do not have ownership over their land.

Recounting that once the forests in Manipur were very dense, he said they are depleting with the passage of time and called for undertaking some measures for protecting forests to prevent the future generations from living in deserts. Chief forest conservator Dr Lokho Punii, School of Preaching Imphal director Dr R Sanga, United College, Chandel associate professor Dr Benjamin Gangmei and Manipur High Court advocate Julius Riamei also participated in the event as resource persons.

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