Two recent events triggered this question in my mind…….
The first was a recent discussion, that I was a part of, on livestock dependent livelihoods. This was held under the auspices of the Centre for Economic and Social Sciences in Hyderabad. The discussion was very rich since it brought in experiences of indigenous communities and pastoralists and small farmers from the rural plains….experiences related in people’s own voices. While the focus was on the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) the heart of the deliberations was the increasing severing of the inextricable linkage between animals, agriculture and people (so much more lyrically expressed as paadi-pashu-panta in Telugu) that has been brought about by industrial farming and the supportive legislation and policies. People’s experiences, be they adivasis, dalits, pastoralists, was the same! Obfuscation, ambiguity, confusion reigned supreme in the legislation and its implementation. On one hand a progressive legislation (the FRA) was enacted by Parliament with a stirring Preamble raising the hopes of millions of marginalised people for whom justice would finally be served. This legislation would also enable communities to practice traditional livelihoods which had co-evolved with the surrounding ecosystem. On the other hand, in implementing this law, Government Departments were pointing fingers at each other saying the law was not clear, they were not sure who it was applicable to, refusing to review submitted documentation, harassing people when they field documentation to assert their rights etc.
Having heard these stories which emerged from a research study facilitated by CESS the question now is what is the next step? How do research studies such as these, done by think tanks across the country, translate to action? Are policy makers even interested in these studies? Is there a proactive role that such think tanks can play? Will the Planning Commission or the Ministry of Rural Development (through its flagship programme NRLM) take cognizance of such findings before allocating and spending crores of rupees in designing and implementing yet another “livelihood” programme?
The discussion also showed us how the issues are distinctly different for forest-dwelling adivasis compared to forest-dependent pastoralists. The challenges faced by pastoralists (with sheep) dependent on grasslands is a different story. Sheep rearing programmes (as a livelihood promotion effort) cannot be thrust upon adivasis who live in forests and do not have access to grasslands. Ecosystems are different across this diverse country and dwellers native to each ecosystem require different policies and programmes. Not appreciating this difference and diversity has resulted in thrusting exotic cows on dalit families living in dry deciduous ecosystems (e.g. Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh) and sheep on adivasis living in tropical rainforests. The resultant ecological and livelihood crises is there for all to see across the length and breadth of this country.
The second was a moving account titled When the Ganga descends…(http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/when-the-ganga-descends/article4857510.ece) by Chitra Padmanabhan of the unfolding tragedy in Uttarakhand. Once again, an apalling lack of connection between policy and several decades of grassroots action by the local communities against a destructive development paradigm that does not understand the local ecosystem.
How much more ecological and human devastation and how much more proof of the absolute inequity and social injustice do we need to see before we realise that there is a need to recognise Ecosystem Specific Governance? Grassroots action, wisdom and knowledge needs to find a place in policy making and not merely be maintained as studies.