Compensating for man-animal conflict

Compensating for man-animal conflict


Population explosion. (iStock image)

With rapid urbanization, population growth and increasing wants of people, the habitats and the fragile eco-systems that wild animals have lived in for centuries are being encroached upon and destroyed systematically.

It is inevitable due to the close proximity between humans and wildlife habitats currently that they will cross paths and these encounters will lead to losses on both sides. During these encounters, humans resort to retaliatory killings of wild animals.

One of the ways in which this acrimony between humans and wildlife can be reduced is through the pro-active payment of compensation by the state government for any losses suffered by humans due to wildlife.

Recognizing that payment of compensation is an important tool in reducing violence against wildlife, most states in India have some mechanisms to compensate persons for human-wildlife conflicts. In fact, among all the states in India, Karnataka stands out as the state that has paid the highest amount of compensation for human-wildlife conflicts. As per a study conducted by the Centre for Wildlife Studies, between 2012–13, 36,000 incidents of human-wildlife conflict were recorded in Karnataka alone, with the state disbursing over Rs 13 crore as compensation. While it is commendable that Karnataka has been at the forefront of ensuring greater harmony between humans and wildlife, there is definitely scope for change and improvement in its current compensation disbursal mechanism.

Currently, Karnataka lacks a comprehensive human-wildlife conflict compensation legislation. The current Karnataka policy has thus far been in operation through the promulgation of various Government Orders. Consequently, multiple such orders spanning decades need to be referred to in order to get a complete understanding of Karnataka’s compensation policy. Government Orders do not have the same force of standing as laws passed by legislature, and are therefore more amenable to changes depending upon the priorities of changing governments in the state.

In the current system of compensation in Karnataka, there are multiple gaps that lead to ad hoc-ism, and therefore ambiguity in processes and payments.  

Standardise compensation criteria: The current policy provides compensation for five kinds of damages -- human injuries and deaths, crop and property damage, and livestock injuries and deaths.

For each of the above categories, the Karnataka policy recommends various compensation amounts. However, there is no standardization of the criteria to be assessed for the calculation of compensation. For instance, currently, the policy pays the same amount of compensation for cows, oxen and buffalos, regardless of their breed, age or milk-yield. This non-differentiation leads to lesser compensation payments to the victims of human-wildlife conflicts.

Clarity on the proof required: The current system of payment of compensation lacks a comprehensive iteration of the types of proof that need to be submitted by a victim of human-wildlife conflict. Unofficially, claimants are required to submit various proofs of damage, such as death certificates in case of human death due to wildlife, photographs of carcasses of livestock, etc., to forest officials. It is necessary to note that these requirements are not standard across Karnataka, thus leading to further confusion.

Claims are often rejected on grounds of the quality and contents of documentation, paperwork, and photographs. This kind of ambiguity leads to a lack of efficiency and transparency in the system. Additionally, it increases the monetary and mental costs of raising a claim for wildlife compensation, and thus indirectly denies victims of wildlife conflict their right to fair and timely compensation. 

Lack of time limit: Additionally, the current policy does not lay down time-limits for the payment of compensation to those affected by human-wildlife conflict incidents. A study by the Centre for Wildlife Studies showed that the payment of a single claim took over 294 days in the areas of Bandipur and Nagarahole.

Considering the socio-economic conditions of those most affected by human-wildlife conflict, the current delays deny justice to the victims in a very real sense. The delay of this compensation often leads the families affected by wildlife conflict into poverty traps as the destruction of property by wildlife often carries with it significant financial costs.

The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, in collaboration with the Centre for Wildlife Studies, is set to release a report that highlights these and other lacunae in the current ad hoc Government Orders and proposes a comprehensive legal framework for the disbursal of compensation for human-wildlife conflicts. The report suggests solutions to each of the identified gaps in the current human-wildlife conflict compensation disbursal framework in Karnataka in the form of a comprehensive law which deals with issues such as the hierarchy of Forest Officers who are in charge of processing claims, standardising the procedure and proofs to be submitted by victims of human-wildlife conflict, proposing objective methods to quantify the losses incurred etc.   

This proposed law will increase access and transparency of human-wildlife conflict compensation in the state, and help foster tolerance towards wildlife, thus helping maintain and promote coexistence between Karnataka’s people and its wildlife.

(The writer is a Research Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Karnataka) 

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