In a just society, no justice for wildlife

In a just society, no justice for wildlife

The art of saving wildlife is a lot more complicated these days than it was earlier, even five years ago. Any move under the banner of wildlife conservation is today vehemently opposed, though not always from genuinely affected groups.

Wildlife conservation has little patronage, rather it’s everyone’s whipping boy today.
Some politicians have even taken this as a subject to rabblerouse to gain political mileage. The forest department which is the sole authority to manage and implement law enforcement activities in Protected Areas (PAs) is already opposed in their day-to-day affairs. In this scenario there are few initiatives that the department or those working on wildlife conservation can propose to implement.

Opposition has several reasons including from those withgenuine reasons. However itmainly roots from misinformation  and false campaigns. The recent victim is the intention to declare Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZ) which allows judicious development around PAs.

This is mandated to the department under the Environment Protection Act and a recent Supreme Court order. ESZs are to act as cushions to PAs where activities in the immediate vicinity of PAs would be compatible with that of wildlife conservation.

These zones are to be delineated based on ecological importance of areas outside the PA boundaries. For instance, ESZ could consist oflegally protected or unprotected forests which act as important wildlife corridors connecting other PAs, or villages that lie on the immediate boundaries of PAs.

ESZ guidelines
However rumours have been floated that livelihood practices of communities living on the edge of PAs would be literally halted, obtaining electricity for housing or farming would be prohibited and such other distorted propaganda. If one would look carefully through the guidelines of ESZ it could well be utilised for the benefits of those living on the periphery of the PAs.

The conflict of land acquisition for developmental projectshas gained gigantic proportions in the country with several thousand farmers fightingto save their lands each year. ESZ is a tool that could help people to mitigate this,atleast those that adjoin PAs.

Setting up heavy industries on the PA boundaries are not favorable to wildlife conservation, neither does farmers want to part with their land for such purposes. Similarly land in critical wildlife corridors could also be protected from unscrupulousland grabbers, exploiters of natural resources and others who have effectively blocked many wildlife corridors in the name of tourism, granite stone quarrying and others.

This is evidently seen around Corbett, Bandipur, Panna, BRT Wildlife Sanctuary and many other PAs in the country. Conservation in practice is more to deal with crises and opportunities. ESZ poses a suitable opportunity for conservationists,whose time is largely swamped with firefighting activities, to take pre-emptive action.Instances of infrastructure, mining and other projects threatening several of our key wildlife habitats are numerous.

Corbett, Kanha, Pench, Ranthambhore are all threatened by proposed highways, diamond mining has been a perennial problem for Pannaand the list of such predicaments to PAs or critical wildlife corridors are long,eating up critical time and resources of several civil societies.

Hence the burden to provide the stimulus should rest on the shoulders of civil societies to make this very important piece of legislation to be implemented and enforced on-ground.

ESZ gives conservationists an opportunity to arrest the loss of habitat connectivity and other insuperable odds that are bid against wildlife conservation. It will help us to have permeable landscapes especially for species that need to move between PAs  for survival. Instances of tigers moving distances of nearly 300 kilometers have been recorded from Karnataka.

If these connectivity routes are unprotected, as they are today, they would be filled with industries, highways, power projects, gas pipelines and othersuch developmental activities. In a just society there should be equal opportunity for everyone including non-human life forms. However wildlife conservation does not have a level playing field.

It’s further weakened by high levels of political interference and lacks voice in the government. In totality it’s nobody’s constituency. Those seriously interested in conservation are also minority in voice and gain little mileage with peoplewho could change things on-ground.

They are even looked as untouchables fromthe vast majority, even in the eyes of those who are in the vanguard of environmentalism. So, it’s time to brace up so that land use around PAs would be in line with wildlife conservation and could directly benefit both wildlife and people.

(The writer is a member ofState Board for Wildlife)

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