Although parliament has passed the new forest bill – giving tribal settlers ownership rights to property in forests – legislation alone is not going to help tribal inhabitants much. What is more important is the implementation of the legislation at the ground level with the involvement and participation of the local population in it. As long as the rights to manage forests remain in the hands of callous government officials in the states, neither our wildlife will be protected, nor will the forests be preserved. What is worse, is that the local inhabitants in the forests will continue to suffer.
In my view, it is high time that India adopts the African model of managing forests, which has already become popular worldwide. If we are not willing to handover our forests to the private sector to be developed into game sanctuaries or safaris, we could at least develop a model in which there can be a form of public-private partnership by seeking guidance and help from well-known international companies, that have an expertise in developing safaris, sanctuaries and dense forests.
Such joint venture models hold the potential to not only generate billions of dollars in tourism revenues for the state, but to also actually aid the conservation and preservation of forests and wildlife, besides supplementing the incomes of the local inhabitants. I have seen in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya that the local population in the forests earns respectable incomes out of its employment in the local safaris and sanctuaries. People also earn money from developing and marketing souvenirs and materials out of the forest produce.