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"Environmental Drive" Threatens Nomadic Livelihood

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/08/22; August 22, 2003.]

Dharamsala - 20 August: According to confirmed information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), the Tibetan nomads from Golog and Yushul "Tibet Autonomous Prefecture" ("TAP") face risk of relocation and threat to their traditional nomadic culture. The government ruling of 16 April 2003 has called for a drive to protect and plant grasses on the banks of the three major rivers - Machu, Drichu and Zachu - to combat desertification and soil erosion. The same ruling has ordered limiting the livestock to protect grassland and this has raised anxiety amongst the local nomads.

As per Xinhua news article of 17 April 2003, the Chinese Government had in April this year decided to convert large tracts of nomadic land into protected and controlled grassland.

The drive, which has already been initiated, is expected to conclude within five years.

The official justification for the drive is that 70 percent of the grasslands in Matoe County in Golog "TAP" has now turned barren. The government has reportedly planned to fence 1540 mu (one mu is equivalent to 67 square metres) to protect and grow grassland. Towards this end, the government plans to resettle 27,679 nomadic populace that have traditionally used the land for subsistence, into some other areas.

TCHRD has received a letter from the residents of Golog "TAP" wherein they have expressed deep concern and anxiety towards the implementation of this new policy. The Tibetan nomads look upon this policy as a threat to their traditional livelihood and nomadic lifestyle. They have subsisted for many generations on these grasslands and livestock. A nomad has compared limiting livestock and relocating nomads from their traditional land hold as "fish being flung out of water."

The official drive also provided for compensation measures such as subsidy of 2.75 kg of grain in return for one mu of land and job incentives to people who would face relocation, according to Xinhua news article. However, the nomads have expressed displeasure with whole plan as they have already been disadvantaged in the field of education and other vocational skills.

The relocation and plantation programme referred here is another "environmental" initiative introduced in the wake of the 1998 floods in China. This could also be viewed as a part of the much-vaunted Western Development Programme (WDP), originally launched in 1999. Such projects have enormously hindered Tibetan livelihood. This is not the only instance where by Tibetans have been deprived of their Right to Livelihood. TCHRD has recorded and reported many violations of this kind.

On 12 May 2003, the Chinese government issued a decree whereby eight thousand Tibetan inhabitants were forcefully displaced in order to implement a major project in constructing seven Dams in Barkham County, Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture ("TAP"), Sichuan Province. As a consequence of constructing the dams, many holy Buddhist shrines and other age-old landmarks were left at the verge of submersion.

In December 2001, Chinese authorities had displaced sixty families in Gonjo County, Chamdo Prefecture to Nyingtri (Kongpo) Prefecture in Tibetan Autonomous Region ("TAR"). The families, mostly farmers, who subsisted from their traditional fields were warned with a fine of 70,000 Yuan for their incompliance with the orders. The displaced families faced enormous hardships in their new surroundings. The families tried to grow crops as per their occupation in the native land but failed to do so. Many had to go to Lhasa city to find employment to feed their family. The government promised to compensate the families but was never given a single dime.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy is highly concerned at the plight of the local Tibetan inhabitants whose traditional livelihood will be affected by the limitation on the livestock. Such policies show no respect for the skill and local knowledge of the Tibetan nomads in preservation of the grassland. The Centre considers it as a measure to destroy another viable and vital part of Tibetan culture.

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