For the people...
WITH problems mounting around the issue of conservation of national parks and sanctuaries, the present state of India's wildlife and protected areas (PA) is in Jeopardy. In most of the cases, the malady has been identified as the largely unscientific and anti-people approaches adopted in dealing with the management of these regions. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, strongly believes that India needs a more rational, sustainable and effective conservation policy which cares for the people's needs and rights.
While trying to evolve an effective system, the government must accept that present policies are myopic and view the whole wildlife management issue very dogmatically. The CSE believes in nurturing a strong concern for poor people who are essentially forest-dependant for their survival - people who are always neglected while conservation processes are planned and implemented, people who are denied access to their natural resources, as more and more LNO areas get earmarked for protection.
Inefficient and ineffective India today has 521 national parks and sanctuaries that cover 4.3 per cent of our geographical area. There are ambitious plans to increase the number to five per cent comprising about 15 milbon ha of land. The Eighth Plan had earmarked Rs 37.63 crore as assistance for the development of national parks PAS. The Project Tiger itself has received Rs 7.7 crore in 1994-95. Despite this lavish arrangement, the tiger population has declined from 4,334 to 3,750 between 1989 and 1993 - showing a decrease of 553 (according to official statistics). The actual situation might actually be worse.
Notwithstanding the fund for tackling poaching (more than Rs I crore between 1990-1993), there are agonising speculations that we might lose the tiger forever by the century's turn. And this is not even 20 years after the Project Tiger had won laurels as one of biggest success stories in international conservation programmes.
However, the fact that a Tiger Crisis Cell had to be created in 1994, is indicative of the government's realisation about the impending doom. Besides, the tiger crisis indicates a larger malaise in this complex biodiversity system. As ecologist Madhav Gadgil puts it, "There are very large opportunity costs attached to any conservation effort. Consequently, such efforts enjoy the support of a relatively narrow segment of the society, mostly from the urban middle class. In particular, there is little. support to state- sponsored conservation efforts by the local people." Unscientific approaches
The existing policies smack mostly of an unscientific temperament. Reserve siting and management are often based on imported conservation models largely inappropriate for developing countries as they carry very little insight about the past and present land-use in countries like India. All this defeats the purpose of preserving biodiversity.
There has been increasing evidence showing that a wrong premise underlies the policy of trying to keep reserves pristine andfreefrom human intervention. In fact, a large part of the world's so-called virgin or primary forest areas are ecosystems modified through centuries of human-nature interactions.
That biodiversity is best preserved when human intervention is reduced to the minimum possible, is being rapidly discarded as a myth. Evidencefrom India and elsewhere is suggesting that controlled human intervention has sometimes been instrumental in enhancing biodiversity.
Studies on a Panama lake show that humans may have influenced rates of forest diversification and prevented the dominance of any one species. In the Bharatpur National Park of India, the ban on grazing of cattle inside the reserve which led to police firing in 1981, has now proved to be a scientifically misguided decision. The Bombay Natural History Society studies show that cattle movement had helped to preserve grass and wetland ecosystems since ancient times.
Therefore, stringent measures to keep off human beings from trespassing forests areas can slowly impoverish wildlife habitats. The fact that diverse biodiversity actually flourishes outside PAS where vital, human-modified ecological processes have maintained it through- out the ages, is very often conveniently ignored.
In fact, by prohibiting people from using forest resources, the indigenous knowledge base about species and their multifarious uses as crop, food, medicines, and rural technologies may simply erode away. For instance, hec 'tic conservation of the rainforest biota has led to the extinction of valuable germplasm of indigenous crop vard. Balendu Prakash, an eminent vaid working in Dehradun, confirms this possibility. He says, "The Gujjars have learnt a lot from nature and in turn, have taught vaids a lot about herbs."
Life versus wildlife
Traditional communities have always been dependent on natural resources, including forests, for their livelihood needs. It is therefore quite natural that they should have rights over the land they have lived in and resources they have used and replenished for centuries. But the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, later modified in 1991, prohibits all human intervention or settlement in national parks, and allows only a very limited intervention in sanctuaries. While the government have taxed the loIcals to pay for biodiversity conservation, it does not guarantee any benefit to the latter from this exercise.
This alienation has spurred a serious backlash from local communities, and in places, this resentment has manifested itself in the violation of PA laws by the local inhabitants. And this is true not only in India, but has also been reported from other parts of the world, especially the developing world.
In Africa, in a sad show of antagonism to PAS there has been cases of poisoning animals and beating up of forest guards. To cite a case in Namibia, in 1990, the Ovambo tribals living on the boundary of the Etosha National Park, lebrated their freedom by cutting the game fence and -hunting down animals ruthlessly.
Similarly, the creation of the Amboseli National Park in Kenya denied the A111%ppam- local Maasai pastoralists access to the dry season grazing lands and water points. The irate locals expressed resentment by killing lions, rhinos and other precious wildlife. The Maasais@have killed black rhinos to near extinction, not so much for, their horns, but because they held the rhinos responsible for the park's creation, and consequently, the sole reason for their land being forfeited. Closer hnme in India, the displaced Jeri Kurumbas and Betta Kurumbas residing in the Nagarhole National Park, reportedly burned down approximately 20 sq km of forest protesting against the wildlife guards who killed a poacher.
In the Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam, the insurgents have taken advantage of the resentment ofthe local Bodo tribals who have lost thei@ land to the reserve, to carry out their activities. With most guards deserting the area, the Bodos have been killing the wildlife to provide funds to the insurgents. It is therefore evident that the government's conservation policy has badly boomeranged and has rather become a threat to biodiversity itself. The people-exclusion policy has failed to generate any positive moves. The local resentment in India has recently intensified at the apparent duplicity of state management.While the laws are very effectively used to har- rass the poorest of the poor, commercial interests have continuously violated all the laws, often in connivance with the Forest Department, to plunder the for- est wealth. Take the case of Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary inGujarat, where people are strident in their demand to denotify the sanctuary, the reason being that while they are pre- vented from extracting small amounts of bamboo, trucks full of barnboo regu- larly rumble out of the sanctuary, under the benevolent gaze of the authorities, to feed a near by paper mill. In the pro- posed Rajaji National Park in Uttar Pradesh, the authorities are desperately trying to displace the few thousand Gujjars, living inside the park, while turning a Nelson's eye to blatant encroachment and violation of laws by large government -owned industrial complexes, and an army ammunition dump. There is, therefore, growing cyn- icism about the sincerity of the state- managed conservation strategy. Sober solutions In an attempt to reduce human and eco- nomic pressures on PAS, the government initiated the ecodevelopment approach. This approach, however, only has an objective of providing alternative resources and income generating activi- ties outside the PAS. There is no structur- al change in the policy involved, and the people are still not recognised as part- ners in effective park management. In fact, the ecodevelopment indica- tive plan, stays away from formulating any plan for people residing inside the PAS. The plan does not comment on the issue of rehabilitation of the forest people. As this is the basic issue to tackle before any plan is chalked out, the plan has a major loophole.
Additionally, this approach is heavily dependent on foreign finding, mainly through the World Bank and the Global Economic Facility (GEF), and shows little scope for generating its own resources for various intended activities. More importantly, the World Bank support is in form of loans. Paying off this loan is a million dollar question.
In fact, it is unfortunate that India today lags behind in a world that is fast realising the plus points of involving the local communities in the whole process of biodiversity conservation. Several experiments in Africa, Central and South America, and even Australasia, have shown that the people, NGOs and park authorities, can successfully share benefits and responsibilities of biodiversity conservation. International organisations like the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the World Conservation Union, Christian Action Research and Education, and the Development through Conservation Project, have been actively involved in the funding and guiding of such interventions.
A unique Memorandum of nderstanding was signed between the Uganda National Park authorities and the people of the Moungu Parish community in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1994. The first such memorandum of this kind in Uganda and perhaps the first in the continent, the mou reflects positively on the recognition of the biota and livelihood needs of the communities, as well as on appreciation of knowledge and the people's commitment towards conservation of their land and its flora and fauna.
Management societies, consisting of community leaders and park authorties, have been elected. From among the community, resource users - to be responsible for providing for the community's needs - have been identified, and issued identity cards. The Uganda National Park authorities allow nominated members access to the park's resources, and the general public to use the footpaths and the hotsprings inside the park. A few herbalists and basket makers are allowed to collect some listed medicinal species, and specific raw materials. Such parks are called multiple-use areas. In return, the people have to observe certain laws. Resource collectors also must assure that resource utilisation will be sustainable and should report any noticeable decline in species being harvested. The boundaries of the multiple use zone is to be strictly adhered to, and to uce t e community's dependence on the park, the people have agreed to grow the forest resources they collect from the park, in theirown lands.
Coburg National Park, situated in the northeastern part of Darwin, Australia, is another such example. Here, an eight-member management board was constituted under the Coburg Act in 1981, out of which four members were aboriginal residents and the other four members belonged to the Conservation Committee of the Northern Territory. The Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service employed three aboriginal people as cultural advisors to guide them in managing the park.
Similarly, in the Kakadu National Park, although there is no formal sharing as in Coburg, the aborigines had formed local organisations like Gajudju, Djabulukgu and lawoyn Associations.
They played an informal, but important role in advising the authorities. Twelve aborigines were trained as park rangers, out of which eight gained formal employment in the park. The relationship between the pe ple and the park authorities is reported to be excellent with frequent interactions, paving the way for informal exchange of ideas.
The traditional aboriginal knowledge proved immensely valuable in u-nderstanding the area's ecological pro&esses, the best examples beingfire management and environment restoration. The people, besides benefitting directly, continue to have access to traditional lands, to practise their traditional methods. Employment scopes and a share in tourism revenue are added advantages for the aborigines.
In Papua New Guinea (PNG), while formulating new environmental laws in 1978, the government rejected the idea that the only way to conserve anything is by taking it away from the people. Western biologists are demanding that 50 per cent Of PNG'S land be protected, a demand strongly resented by local landowners. It was soon realised that any conservation effort had to involve landowners and NGOs right from the planning stage. National Conservation Councils have been set up to identify sites for conservation, while each site had a separate committee, including the landowners. These committees also monitor various activities in the area, and even direct the rangers. The laws formulated in 1978 has acknowledged the local conservation values, and helped shed PNG'S colonial hangover.
Understandably, there is considerable need for experimentation to develop wildlife management strategies suited to different Indian cultures and regions. While the csE strongly believes that community-based wildlife management strategies -given strong government and NGo support systems - will be most effective, it welcomes the idea of experiments in appropriate institutional development. It believes that any singular policy formulated at the national level is bound to run into serious implementational trouble, the ultimate cost being paid by India's wildlife and biodiversity. Conservation strategies which assign charges to the people, and specific roles to the state and environmentalists, would definitely work better than state- managed strategies if there is enough experimentation and scientific implementation. Institutional flexibility, a marriage of conservation and development priorities, and creation of local stakes in biodiversity conservation, is the only answer. Otherwise, the entire conservation movement in India will get throttled in its infancy.
The CSE statement should be read together with the Debate: Stressed woods, and the Analysis: Keep forests ... shall feed
- World risk report 2023: focus:- diversity
- Asian Development Outlook (ADO) September 2023
- Seven years to save nature and people: a proposed set of policies and actions for the SDG Summit
- Progress on children's well-being: centring child rights in the 2030 Agenda
- Behavior change in solid waste management: a compendium of cases
- Global report on food crises 2023 mid-year update