Sounds good on paper, you say? Well, environment activists are not so happy. While the government says local communities would be "equal partners" and contracts would have legal sanctity, Smitu Kothari, director of environment think tank Intercultural Resources, feels there is a deep disconnect between the interests of forest dwellers and private firms. "It's a very early stage for private interests to address the basic issues that forest dwellers have been concerned about for the past century-and-a-half," he says. These include the root causes of deforestation, the role of traditional knowledge in forest management, the value of the forest beyond commodities and the rights of these communities to become primary agents of sustainable forest management. "Land is not just a subsistence issue, it is an integral part of their cultural identity," adds Kothari.
However, the private sector feels it can pitch in. "Essentially, decision-making is much faster in the private sector," argues Seema Arora, head, CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development. "And this deadline is just four years away. Let the government provide the framework, but it should be a level playing field and a model that also benefits us along with the locals." She cites the example of Usha Martin's project in 19 villages of Jharkhand to show how the private sector has played a role in enabling people to manage their natural resources in a sustainable manner. "And these examples can be bettered."