A framework for reforming India’s forest biodiversity management - II
by S Faizi & M Ravichandran on 10 Oct 2016 0 Comment

Putting community reserves to work


Incorporated in the WLPA in 2003, the community reserve is a statutory mechanism to accord the authority for the sustainable management of biodiversity in the local community. The management responsibility is vested with a local committee nominated by the Village Panchayat (village council), and the reserve has a provision for sustainable resource use, based on an agreed management plan, marking a departure from the exclusionary sanctuaries and national parks. However, only four such reserves out of a total 668 protected areas have been established in the country so far.


The near absence of progress in the implementation of this provision is partly due to an inherent anxiety within a forest management system that is not accustomed to the concept of people managing biodiversity. The law is also often interpreted by state forest departments in a manner that does not favour community reserves. Section 36.C of the WLPA states that community reserves can be declared in community lands or private lands where the community or individual has volunteered to do so, but outside existing protected areas.

In the absence of legislation defining ‘community land’, it is understood that public lands traditionally used by communities, irrespective of tenurial status, are regarded as community lands, and this would include community forest lands as well. The categorical exceptions are areas designated as national parks and sanctuaries. Obviously, community forest lands where there is historical resource use by local communities could be considered as candidate sites, but this possibility is often excluded by many state forest departments.


Issues with interpretation that impede the implementation of this provision of the WLPA should be resolved in line with the spirit with which this progressive provision was introduced into law. It is also important to note that in the case of the first such reserve established in the country, or the Kadalundi-Vallikkunnu Community Reserve (Malappuram and Kozhikkode districts of Kerala), the tenure of the area rests with public agencies. It would be useful to issue formal clarifications on the establishment of community reserves, so that more protected areas can be designated in this category in the future, effectively capturing the triple objectives of the CBD and its ecosystem approach, and without assuming the role of national guidelines. National guidelines cannot address the diverse socio-economic contexts that exist in potential community reserve sites across the country.


Community managed areas (CMAs)


The thousands of natural sites that are managed based on social sanctions and customary rules by local communities are important repositories of biodiversity. These sites have differing management systems since they have differing ontogenies, but the underlying principles are conservation and sustainable use. The sites vary from village ponds to forest catchment areas or vestiges of previously dense forests. These sites reflect the historical practice of sustainable resource use, and vary considerably according to the size of the area. Many community-managed areas also have complex social dynamics, in which the communities often have to face different types of pressure, increasingly commercial (Pathak, 2009), to undo the conservation system. The official machinery has often been less than supportive to such community initiatives, though it is slowly becoming cooperative.


Such sites are recognized by the CBD’s Programme of Work on Protected Areas, and by the World Parks Congress. Since the socio-economic ground on which these self-governed sites stand is changing and the pressures of competing land-use options are likely to increase, efforts to promote the sustainability of such sites should be made. However, such promotion should be done without altering the autonomous nature of these biodiversity management enterprises. Greater political recognition of such sites, comprehensive documentation and the removal of impediments to management, including the sustainable harvesting of resources, are among the initiatives that both the government and civil society can undertake to support

community-managed areas. Certain sites, depending on local interest, may be developed as community reserves under the WLPA and some sites may legalize their autonomy by invoking the Forest Rights Rules (2008) (Section 4.3), and drawing the powers for biodiversity management as provided in Section 5 of the FRA. As part of conservation or rural development programs, the government should provide financial incentives for the sustainable management of the sites.


Displacements and the conservation project


India has about 200 million people who live in the forests or on the peripheries, dependent on the forests for their very subsistence. About half of this population is comprised of the Adivasis (Forest Survey of India (FSI), 2009). The conservation project - and the designation of reserve forests and protected areas in particular - has caused the displacement of a large number of people. Along with the displacement caused by mining and other development projects, this has precipitated a challenging forest crisis.


There is no national-level data on the number of people living in the protected areas. By extrapolating figures available for 28 tiger reserves across the country, as provided in Tiger Task Force (2005), we estimate that there are 1.62 million people living in the country’s protected areas, with a 10% decadal growth in population over this figure. Rangarajan and Shahabuddin (2006) have estimated that up to 120,000 people have been displaced by the establishment of protected areas. As shown in a long term study of the Kuno Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh (Kabra, 2009), relocation programmes, when undertaken, often tend to fail, and this happens mainly due to inadequate investment as compensation, failure to address the livelihood needs of the people and a disregard for their cultural affiliation to the forests. Information about the number of people displaced due to reserved forest classification is not readily known, but a good part of the total estimate of 2.6 million Adivasis displaced from their forest homes includes reserved forest-related displacements.


The Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972, under sections 21 to 25, does provide for the settlement of claims before the final classification of sanctuaries and national parks. However, as observed by the Supreme Court, this is far from being followed. The Supreme Court, in an order in 1997, directed the state governments and union territories to “issue proclamation under Section 21 in respect of the sanctuaries/national parks within two months and complete the process of determination of rights and acquisition of land or rights as contemplated by the Act within a period of one year” (Supreme Court order dated 22.8.1997 in Centre for Environmental Law vs. Union of India and others). The Supreme Court emphasised this again in 2006 when the petitioner pointed out that the process has not been completed in 14 out of 85 national parks and 170 out of 494 wildlife sanctuaries, as per the affidavits placed by the state governments before the court (ELDF, WWF India, 2009).


The avoidable crisis of the displacement of the forest-dependent poor can be effectively addressed within existing laws and policies, albeit with a shift in the approach in implementation, or by regarding the protected areas system as an inclusive conservation enterprise, in which the people who have been the traditional custodians of the forests and wildlife should be recognised as partners in conservation and their livelihood concerns respected, as envisaged in the CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas. The FRA, which vests the forest communities with the right to protect the forests, strengthens this approach and provides the legal tools to operationalize the same, as well as sets categorical terms for the resettlement of people, whether for conservation or development purposes. This shift in approach within the conservation sector has already begun. In developing compensation packages for the resettlement of forest-dependent people, it is important to be cognizant of the recent estimates of the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystem services (e.g., Costanza et al., 1999), rather than modeling on the conventional nominal packages that actually impose heavy costs on the affected people. Enforcing the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (Forest Rights Act, or FRA).


The FRA (2006) best translates the key CBD provisions and its ecosystem approach into domestic legislation, and is as much about managing forest biodiversity at the local level as about undoing the ‘historical injustice’ committed to the indigenous people. The law seeks to “strengthen the conservation regime of the forests while ensuring the livelihood and food security” of these communities. It provides for the sustainable harvesting of forest produce by local communities, in addition to the recognition of historical rights over forests, extinguished by the British colonial regime through the Indian Forest Act (1927), a legacy carried on by the post-independence government. Equally important is that in Section V of the act, it empowers the local communities to protect and manage forest biodiversity and associated ecosystems.


This groundbreaking legislation devolves the power for biodiversity management to the local communities, and the rules issued under the act provide for the creation of the necessary local level institutions for forest management, as well as require the government to provide capacity-building support to such institutions. This enabling statutory provision of capacity-building remedies the legal institutional ambiguities and lacunae in community-based forest management to the satisfaction of resource protection and sustainable use. There is, however, bureaucratic apathy and political indifference with regard to the enforcement of the act. The forest departments in many states seek to impede its implementation, although tribal departments are the designated nodal agencies for its implementation. An illustrative example is the case in which the central minster of environment and forest, accompanied by the chief minister of Maharashtra, had to go himself to Mendha Lekha village in Maharashtra, where the community has traditionally protected forests, to affirm their right to minor forest produce under the FRA, in response to hurdles created by the state forest department (http://www.thchindu.com/news/national/articlel818936.ece). Parliament had anticipated bureaucratic subversion of the act, and that was why a provision to prosecute such officials for impeding the enforcement of the act is incorporated under Section VII.


This law can be used to effectively address the twin crisis of poverty and biodiversity degradation in the forest areas. It is imperative to harness the law’s strength to turn the local communities into effective resource managers and to build partnerships with them in the conservation enterprise. The government agencies working in the forest landscapes, especially the forest departments, tribal departments and the Panchayati Raj institutions should shed their fragmented approaches and develop meaningful coordination among themselves, providing much needed capacity-building support to the Gram Sabhas, in order to enable them to effectively discharge the statutory forest management responsibilities vested with them. That is particularly important considering the fact that up to 71.7% of the country’s dense forest cover is found in the 188 tribal districts (FSI, 2011). The recommendation of the HPC to weaken the enforcement of the FRA ought to be firmly resisted.


Human-wildlife conflicts (HWC)


Human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) remain a perpetual problem in a large part of the wildlife habitats, and are emblematic of the struggle for survival within the local communities. It is imperative to seek meaningful solutions to this seemingly intractable problem. The attacks on humans that sometimes lead to death, crop raiding and the killing of livestock are on the increase, and pose a threat to biodiversity, human life and goods. Elephants, tigers, sloth bears, leopards, wild boars, blue bulls, etc. are the species that rim into conflict with the human populations in the adjoining villages. Human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) often arise as a result of a reduction in size, degradation and fragmentation of the habitats. Animals also move to villages for easily available food, and sometimes for more palatable food. Reduction in prey base also prompts predatory animals to foray into the villages, as does the search for water when water sources in their natural habitats dry out. Table 2 provides an overview of the HWC issue in India.


Table 2. Human-wildlife conflicts in India

Species involved

Nature of conflict

Main areas of occurrence

Panthera pardus (Leopard)

Cattle depredation/Attacks on humans

All over its range

Panthera tigris (Tiger)

Cattle depredation/Attacks on humans

All over its range

Panthera leo (Lion)

Cattle depredation/Attacks on humans

Gir forest of Gujarat

Canis lepus (Wolf )

Cattle depredation/Child-lifting

All over the country, child-lifting happens mainly in Uttar Pradesh

Elephas maximus (Elephant)

Crop raiding/Attacks on humans

Southern Ghats, Western Ghats, parts of Eastern Ghats, Northeast region

Melurus ursinus (Sloth bear)

Attacks on humans

All over its range, particularly in central India

Sus scrofa (Wild boar), antelopes

Crop raiding

All over their ranges


It is estimated that on average 400 people are killed annually by elephants, and that 100 elephants are killed in retaliation by people (MoEF, 2010). Annually, elephants also damage 0.8-1 million hectares of crops, affecting over 50,000 families (Bist, 2002). In a three-year study in two elephant range districts of Assam, Davies et al. (2011) found 1,761 cases of elephant-human conflicts that damaged crops in a 359 ha area. According to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, 166 human deaths and 3,131 injuries from wildlife attacks occurred in the state during the five-year period of 1998-2003. Fourteen thousand and ninety heads of cattle were also reported to be killed by carnivorous predators during this period.


According to information obtained from the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, 259 human casualties occurred in the state during the period of 2002-2003 to March 2010, 139 of which were caused by elephants. The Odisha Forest Department reported 3,425 cases of animal depredations during the period of 1994-1995 to 2003-2004 (Orissa Forest Department, 2004). There were 400 cases during 2008-2009. According to information from the forest department, there were 51 cases of deaths and 752 cases of human injuries caused by wildlife attacks during the period of 2000-2005 in Gujarat, and mainly involved leopards and sloth bears. Blue bulls and blackbucks cause extensive damage to the crops here.


In the Bhadra Tiger Reserve of Karnataka, 219 livestock heads were lost to predators, and crop damage to the order of Rs 5,100 per household, or the equivalent of 30% of the average annual income of a household, occurred over the course of a year in five sample villages studied in the early 2000s (Madhusudan, 2003). The official reports of damage and death caused by wildlife are often inaccurate. The wildlife attacks, apart from their human and social costs, also turn affected communities against the wildlife species in question, as well as the wildlife authorities.


The HWC is a global problem, though it varies in scale and intensity across regions. The 5th World Parks Congress has recommended the establishment of a multi-stakeholder global platform to address HWC issues, and called for international cooperation in developing measures to address HWC in conflict areas. It also called on international donor agencies to provide funding for HWC prevention and mitigation programmes. India has been making efforts to develop HWC prevention and mitigation measures to address this seemingly intractable problem, in which the victims are the rural poor and the wildlife itself. Habitat improvement of wildlife areas and the prevention of habitat fragmentation provide a long-term solution to the problem in relation to most species.


Apart from addressing the basic issues arising from habitat fragmentation, village-level mechanisms led by Panchayat institutions should be set up and supported for addressing this vexing issue. This mechanism can include representatives of different government agencies at the local-level, in particular the forest department and peoples’ representatives. Resources and training should be provided to the people involved in this mechanism. On the other hand, species like the wild boar, the bluebull, and the rhesus macaque, which are pervasive sources of conflict, may be shifted to Schedule V (vermin) of the WLPA for states in which the conflicts caused by these species are acute and subsequent conditional culling exercises undertaken, as was done recently by the Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar states.


(To be concluded…)

S. Faizi is an ecologist specialising in biodiversity management; s.faizilll@gmail.com

M. Ravichandran is at the Department of Environmental Management, Bharathidasan University, Thiruchirappalli; muruguravi@yahoo.co.in

Courtesy Natural Resources Forum 40 © 2016 103-111 United Nations

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