A framework for reforming India’s forest biodiversity management - III
by S Faizi & M Ravichandran on 11 Oct 2016 0 Comment

Capacity development


The staff of the state forest departments, totaling about 115,000, is the most important governmental force in the country in managing biodiversity. However, they lack adequate training in handling social issues - as well as wildlife management. The conventional policing approach will not be successful, and as the forest staff is increasingly getting involved in community activities such as JFM and eco-development, they need to be given adequate training in community development issues and extension work. Many local conflicts could be readily resolved if the forest staff were better trained to handle such issues. Although wildlife management is a specialized area, the forest staff training curriculum does not place enough emphasis on this. Inadequate staff training was also identified as a key management issue in an evaluation of the tiger reserves of the country in 2006 (Project Tiger Directorate, 2006). In fact, when there is greater devolution of biodiversity management to local community institutions, the size of forest staff can be progressively reduced.


Neither the state forest staff nor the members of the elite Indian Forest Service are provided with training in social issues, which hampers them in viewing conservation issues in the larger perspective. This weakness is also reflected in the formulation of the Divisional Working Plans and Protected Area Management Plans. It is imperative to revise the training curricula for the state forest staff, as well as the members of the Indian Forest Service, to incorporate wildlife management, social issues and community development. The standard formats for preparing these plans also need to be revised in order to address community concerns.


The Biological Diversity Act (BDA) has created a number of statutory institutions, such as the state biodiversity boards and village-level biodiversity management committees, apart from the National Biodiversity Authority. In addition, there are dedicated funds to be established and managed at the national, state and village levels. Most of the state biodiversity boards have limited capacities in addressing the mandate with which they are vested. Massive capacity-building exercises at the Panchayat level would be required in order to produce the Peoples’ Biodiversity Register for all villages, and as envisaged in the act.


Strengthening the access and benefit sharing

(ABS) regime


India values the CBD provisions for access and benefit sharing; namely, prior informed consent, mutually agreed terms and equitable benefit sharing, and enacted the BDA to domestically operationalize these legally binding articles of the convention. The Nagoya Protocol on ABS, based on the CBD provisions on ABS, came into force in October 2014 as a legally binding international instrument. With the CBD in force in 1993 at the global level and the BDA in force in 2003 at the national level, the tide of biopiracy was expected to be reversed. However, there has been no let-up in biopiracy. The MoEF has pointed out that over 2,000 patents based on Indian biodiversity and traditional knowledge were taken out in Western patent offices every year. [MoEF press note dated 4 January 2010]


There are practical difficulties and resource limitations to oppose every such illegal patent in Western patent offices. The issue can be effectively addressed in a three pronged way. Patents taken out abroad without following the binding ABS provisions of the CBD constitute infractions of the convention, and hence cases of such infractions could be addressed by the Indian government in the civil courts of the concerned countries that are contracting parties to CBD, invoking CBD provisions on access and benefits. The patent laws and hence the patent offices do not recognize ABS provisions of the CBD or the national sovereign rights recognized in the convention, but the civil court of a party (country) must. This approach has not yet been pursued by India.


Second, the country needs to build the capacity of the institutions created by the BDA, especially that of the National Biodiversity Authority and state biodiversity boards, to track and create an inventory of cases of infractions of the CBD and the BDA, and to pursue legal measures. Third, the cases of infractions of the CBD should be brought to the attention of the Conference of Parties (CoP), since the CoP is mandated to review the progress of the implementation of the convention (Faizi, 2012). The CoP may also be encouraged to address the non-compliance of Article 15.7 of the convention, which commits parties to take legislative, administrative or policy measures to enforce ABS provisions of the convention. The capacity of local-level institutions like the Panchayats, biodiversity management committees, local-level institutions created under the FRA, etc. should be strengthened in order to be able to negotiate ABS agreements with entities seeking access to local biodiversity and traditional knowledge.


It is pertinent to note that the community-level institutions established under the FRA have far more statutory powers than the biodiversity management committees, which only need to be ‘consulted’ by the National Biodiversity Authority in matters of access to biodiversity, and therefore FRA institutions are to be especially strengthened. Legal assistance should also be provided to these institutions when dealing with corporate bodies. Case studies of appropriate ABS ventures should be widely disseminated, in addition to building large-scale public awareness on the issue of partnership with civil society. Since biodiversity and traditional knowledge are shared with countries of the region, India may also seek to promote regional cooperation initiatives in South Asia, as called for by the Nagoya Protocol.    


Economic valuation of biodiversity


Efforts are being made to estimate the economic value of biodiversity, and to reflect these values in the national accounting system following the estimation of the value of the earth’s biodiversity and ecosystem services (Costanza et al., 1999). The inherent methodological constraints in estimating the monetary value of biodiversity are progressively being overcome, especially with the convergence of the corresponding multiple disciplines. While tangible benefits such as harvested resources or even genetic resources could be readily accorded financial values, methodologies for valuing the ecosystem functions are still being developed. The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) of India has been producing the Compendium of Environmental Statistics since 1997. The CSO also established a Technical Working Group on Natural Resource Accounting in 1999, with the aim of streamlining methodologies for fiscal accounting of natural resources and their monetary evaluation and integration into national economic accounting. Advances over the early methodology outlined by Pearce and Moran (1994) are being made. Accounting for the declining natural capital can strengthen the political will to achieve environmental sustainability.


While the commercialization of ecosystem services can indeed harm the resource base and the dependent communities in the long term, the economic valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem functions provides insights into the scale of contribution of natural capital to the rural economy and helps, for example, to design compensatory measures for forest-dependent communities in proportion to the value of the ecological resource base that they are often asked to forego for the sake of long-term conservation, discarding the current approach of nominal compensation. Sound incorporation of natural resource depreciation into national accounting exercises and corporate operations and internalization of environmental costs is one important way to achieve the mainstreaming of biodiversity. However, caution must be applied so that the economic valuation of biodiversity does not lead to the commercialization of bio-diversity, which will deeply sharpen the twin crisis of poverty and biodiversity loss.


Towards a landscape approach


Protected areas constitute 4.9% of the geographical area of the country, and together with reserve forests and protected forests means that close to a quarter of the area of the country is legally protected for bio-resource management. However, the contiguous areas, mostly comprised of production areas and human settlements, while ecologically related, are outside the reach of biodiversity management interventions. Further, there are multiple agencies involved in regulating or promoting land use in these areas, but hardly any coordination among them. Moreover, the land-use options are often competing and at times could be at odds with biodiversity management goals. Conventional biodiversity management objectives are often limited to the protected areas, although the reserve forests and protected forests are also protected by law. The landscape approach will, irrespective of the ecosystem type where it is applied, pursue an integrated and comprehensive method of management covering the entire matrix of land-use forms, including protected areas, in a given landscape.


The landscape approach will address conservation, sustainable use and production as well as other land-use needs, involve the local populace in planning and management exercises, and be governed by the existing laws, albeit with the necessary institutional reform. Protected areas will be a pivotal component here, and the management of the rest of the land-use mosaic will be re-oriented to be biodiversity-compatible, and also protect the integrity of ecological processes by incorporating these objectives in the larger development agenda of the area through management strategies and plans. This would provide the much-needed biodiversity corridors and buffer zones and protect ecological processes that operate on a larger space, without entailing extra costs to local communities. The landscape approach would in fact be a re-invention of the old practice of sustainable natural resource use that was in vogue long before the arrival of the Western-inspired protected area system that regarded these sites as isolated islands of conservation.


The landscape approach entails the progressive unmaking of the sectoral approach to biodiversity management, and forges coordination among agencies dealing with a wide range of issues in the landscape, including forests and wildlife, tribal affairs, agriculture, rural development, etc. The re-alignment of the institutional mechanism remains a huge challenge given the inherent immutability that is characteristic of institutions of any kind; however, once achieved, the complementarity between conservation and development objectives can be secured, and synergies can be harnessed to scale up the entire landscape management programme. The integrated and comprehensive landscape approach enhances the operationalization of the triple objectives of the CBD, with equal importance given to each the three elements.


The landscape is essentially a social construct that has ecological, cultural and socio-economic attributes, and is in large part a creation of nature-people interactions over a long period of time. The size of the landscape selected for management can be determined based on the local ecological and socio-economic features. The current legislative and policy objectives could be better achieved by employing the landscape approach, with the devolved local self-government institutions playing a pivotal role. India’s vast experience in five-year planning, which cuts across sectors and institutions at both the national and state levels, though currently given up at the national level, provides a sound basis for introducing and expanding landscape-level planning and management.


The complex experience gained from exercises such as district-level planning, watershed management, forestry working plans, protected area management plans, etc. would provide valuable lessons in launching the landscape approach in the country. This paradigm could provide a new impetus for successfully managing the country’s remarkable biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, and promoting the livelihood security of the biodiversity-dependent communities.




India’s forest biodiversity management regime ought to be reformed in order to be able to effectively address the twin crisis of biodiversity degradation and deepening poverty among the forest-dependent communities. In addition to law and policy reform, the institutional systems and the implementation praxis should also be reformed so that the historical bias of the forest departments against the Adivasis and other local communities can be removed, and they can then work as equal partners in a win-win conservation pursuit. The HPC report should be rejected, as its assumptions and objective are deeply flawed, in that they base their reforms on the triple objectives of the CBD and the fundamental principles of the constitution.



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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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