Rhetoric and reality

Rhetoric and reality

SUSTAINED STRUGGLE Forming the first Ecologically Sensitive Zone in Karnataka was no simple task. It involved dialogues, struggles and continued efforts to prove the merit of green intentions, writes Pandurang Hegde.

In 2002, the Ministry of Environment and Forests framed rules to form Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ) in a 10 km radius around the boundaries of national parks and wild life sanctuaries. This was done under the Environment Protection Act 1986 to protect the natural resources and biodiversity in the protected areas. Accordingly, the Karnataka government passed the Gazette Notification on October 4, 2012 to form ESZ in a 479 sq km area, covering 123 villages in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, in Chamarajanagar district.

Initially there were apprehensions among the villagers that they would not be allowed to cultivate land, construct roads or build houses. Also, rumours about negative impacts on their livelihoods led them to opposing the formation ESZs.

In order to clear this confusion,  Wildlife Conservation Foundation (WCF) led by Rajkumar, initiated a rigorous process of dialogue with the villagers. “First we approached the elders and youth and discussed the concept of ESZ and how it was going to benefit the local people and conserve the natural resources around their village. We explained the guidelines as published in the Gazette,” said Rajkumar.

Ridding the fear

The task of removing the fear psychosis was a Herculean one. WCF approached opinion leaders in each of the villages and held extensive discussions. They then translated the Gazette notification into Kannada, printed copies and circulated them in the villages. This had a dramatic impact. “The government order in Kannada cleared our doubts; it gave us confidence that we would not be vacated, and it also mentioned what activities were prohibited and what were permitted. It specifically allowed villagers to cultivate land, graze cattle or build roads. It was not stopping development in the villages, but only restricted activities that were harmful to the environment,” said Nanjayya, a local leader from Mangala village.

Though the villagers eventually agreed to accept the ESZ proposal, there was stiff opposition from local politicians. But this was handled strategically through the intervention of NGOs and forest officials. The representatives of Eco Development Committees around Bandipur Tiger Reserve were contacted to create awareness about the motives behind forming the ESZs. To show them the importance of Western Ghats, an exposure trip was organised for the village representatives. Numerous meetings were held with the villagers to remove apprehensions and clarify their doubts. Thus, the first ESZ in Karnataka and perhaps in South India came into effect in 123 villages around Bandipur in Chamarajanagar district.

Basavanna, a youth leader from Mangala village is actively working on conservation issues related to ESZs. Narrating his experience over the past two years, he said: “We are working with the schools in the villages, creating environmental awareness among the students. The BTR is holding nature camps to inform us about the protection of wildlife and forests. As a result of the awareness, students are taking keen interest to stop fires in the forest. They report to the forest department and participate actively in putting off the fire”. Similarly, the electric fencing on the farmland provided by BTR is helping to protect their crops from being destroyed by wildlife.


‘Works for us’
“The ESZ has been operative for the last two years. They have not evicted the villagers. Development work like construction of roads is not banned; we carry on agricultural activities as usual. Some work is prohibited, like quarrying and mining or building of large resorts. Anyway, who wants these destructive projects that hardly benefit us,” reasons Parvatamma, a middle-aged farmer from Mangala.

Once the ESZ is formed, commercial quarrying and mining, big industries, saw mills, large hydro projects, dumping of plastic and medical waste was prohibited. It encourages organic farming, solar fencing of agriculture fields, rainwater harvesting and propagation of renewable energy. The forest department provides financial assistance for implementing these projects and supports conservation of natural springs.

The guidelines of the Ministry of Environment and Forests state that the State government should endeavour to convey a very strong message to the public that ESZs are not meant to hamper their day-to-day activities; instead, they are meant to protect the precious forests in their locality from negative impacts.

The successful functioning of ESZs around Bandipur is a model to show how peoples’ participation helps in securing conservation goals by providing ecological and livelihood security to villagers around national parks.

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