The Bangalore meeting on "Critical Tiger Habitats and Critical Wildlife Habitats" held at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore on 8-9 May, 2008, failed to come to grips with some basic facts about Critical Wildlife Habitat when juxtaposed to the Forest Rights Act.
I am pasting below the recommendations of the workshop and the views expressed by Mr P.N Unnikrishnan. My views are in tandem with the views expressed by Mr P. N Unnikrishnan. Read the whole text and draw your own conclusions
The participants of the National Workshop on Critical Tiger Habitats and Critical Wildlife Habitats, welcome the protection of areas of crucial importance for wildlife as envisaged by the provisions of ‘Critical Tiger Habitats’ under the WLPA and ‘Critical Wildlife Habitats’ under the STOTFDA. The scope of the above provisions to strengthen conservation, including to secure the habitats of many wildlife species and simultaneously secure livelihoods of forest-dwelling communities is recognized as extremely significant. The fact that Critical Wildlife Habitats once notified, cannot be diverted for any other use (as per Section 4(2) of STOTFDA) which is the strongest provision for conservation available in any law in India.
The provisions for Critical Tiger and Wildlife Habitats, however require the use of scientific knowledge for identification, and a democratic process of consultations during the entire process from identification to notification to dealing with people’s rights. It is therefore critical, that the Central and State Governments do not rush the process of identifying and notifying Critical Wildlife Habitats and the implementation of already notified Critical Tiger Habitats.
In addition, we stress the following strategies:
i. Criteria for Identifying Critical Wildlife Habitats
A key presumption operating here is that the decision on which PAs, how much and which parts of a specific PA are to be declared Critical Wildlife Habitats will be on a case-by-case basis.
We recommend that these areas be identified based on a set of ecological and biological criteria and in relation to the conservation goal of the specific PA.
Ecological and Biological Criteria would include sites that are unique or crucial for:
Exclusive representation of a Biome
Rare and/or restricted range species
Key wintering or stepping stone sites for migratory species
Species richness (relative to biogeographic context)
Status of a particular species or habitat using established importance/threat criteria, e.g. IUCN Red List, Ramsar Sites, World Heritage Sites etc.
Ecosystem service providers i.e. pollinators, seed dispersers
Key habitats for ecosystem integrity e.g. riparian forest in arid area, catchment areas for watersheds
Unique geomorphologic features and scientific archives of evolutionary processes or climate change e.g. fossiliferous rocks and peat bogs
Wild relatives of important crops/domesticated animals
Current roosting, breeding and display sites e.g. lekking sites for floricans
Species range during periods of stress
Regeneration sites for endangered plants or plants that are characteristic of that PA, e.g. regeneration of shoal trees within shola-Acacia plantation matrix
In addition, we recommend that essential areas outside National Parks and Sanctuaries that are also crucial for wildlife, such as essential corridors, or sites meeting the above key criteria be considered as Critical Wildlife Habitats and be given legal backing through various option in the WLPA, Biological Diversity Act (?) STOTFDA, and EPA.
It is also recommended that the boundaries of a CWH be periodically reviewed, especially to take into account movements of nesting, roosting, feeding sites, or vegetational movement during climate change.
We strongly advise that the Precautionary Principle is used when there is absence of adequate information on the above criteria.
ii. Process to Identify and Notify Critical Wildlife Habitats
It is crucial to be note that a Critical Wildlife Habitat is being identified because the area is critical for wildlife. Such identification should not be made with the intention of modifying rights. Any modification of rights, if required, should occur only after the PA-level sub-committee has conducted an objective evaluation of human impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat.
We emphasize that the process to identify Critical Wildlife Habitats is undertaken on a case-by-case basis and considered as an opportunity to evaluate the ecologically representative quality of our current PA system. In addition, the following should be factored into the process:
The process to identify Critical Wildlife Habitats should be a PA-level and bottom-up approach so that it is in sync with the varying local contexts.
It should engage a healthy confluence of scientists (ecologists, biologists, geologists, hydrologists, social scientists etc.), professionals, holders of traditional knowledge and other primary stakeholders at PA level.
If the impact evaluation reveals that the rights of certain groups need to be modified, we urge that various social considerations are brought into the process. Within this, crucial steps would be to:
Consider traditional use of sacred sites, species and other entities within the proposed Critical Wildlife Habitat.
Cultural sensitivities, e.g. particularly vulnerable groups, access to culturally important sites or where displacement from PAs could cause cultural disintegration of the community.
Socioeconomic factors, e.g. process of modifying or relocating bona fide rights holders under STOTFDA or when the number of people affected is large.
iii. Constitution of Committees for Critical Wildlife Habitats
We strongly recommend that Sections 3.3 and 3.4 of the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s ‘Guidelines to notify Critical Wildlife Habitat including constitution and functions of the Expert Committee, scientific information required and resettlement matters incidental thereto’ issued in October 2007, be interpreted to mean that one State Level Expert Committee and a number of PA-Level Expert Sub-Committees will be set up for the purpose of identifying these areas.
Constitution of State-Level Expert Committee:
It is recognized that it will not be feasible for a committee at the state level to carry out the CWH identification and process in as detailed, scientific and consultative a manner as necessary. Therefore, the primary function of the State committee should be to oversee PA-level sub-committees. This will involve collating and harmonizing the local committee’s recommendations. This committee must include the following:
Relevant government departments, other than Forest and Tribal Welfare, e.g. Revenue, Water, Soil etc.
State-level scientific institutions and NGOs
Representatives of state federations of community organizations
Constitution of PA-Level Expert Sub-Committee:
The primary function of this sub-committee will be to directly carry out the Critical Wildlife Habitat identification process, including demarcating the area based on various scientific criteria, evaluating the human impact on the ecosystem and engaging local communities in the entire process. This sub-committee must consist of:
A number of local experts or members of local communities, and not only one member as specified by MoEF’s Guidelines. In this context, a local expert could be an individual familiar with local issues and/or have traditional knowledge regarding the biodiversity of the area.
Primary stakeholders and rights-holders who are legitimately dependent on the forest, i.e. having customary traditional rights that are recorded or unrecorded (this does not include poachers).
Those who are likely to me most significantly affected by the critical habitat
Local communities who currently engage in active conservation practices within/adjacent to proposed Critical Wildlife Habitats.
Members from existing conservation-related committees, both Government or community-initiated
Additionally, but not replacing the above, local NGOs and researchers
We emphasize that to allow for true representation of various stakeholders, the community members of this sub-committee be elected by the communities themselves.
If need be, the MoEF’s Guidelines on Critical Wildlife Habitats must be amended to allow for the above recommendation.
v. Institutions for Facilitating Co-Management of PAs
We recommend a gradual move towards full co-management of PAs, in which all processes of decision-making, management and planning of each PA will involve primary stakeholders (those residing in the area or substantially dependent on the area’s resource and/or active in the area’s conservation). Such co-management institutions could be used to bring in more effective conservation and greater accountability into PA management.
Co-management of PAs has been recommended in the National Wildlife Action Plan 2000, is a commitment by India as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity Program of Work on PAs and has been recommended in the Environment & Forests report of the 11th 5-year Plan. Additionally, in many PAs, local communities will themselves seek this when they claim rights to manage forests under Section 3(i) of STOTFDA, “the right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.” It is therefore necessary for states to be prepared with ideas and plans to establish co-management institutions.
We recognize that a number of legal spaces already exist for some level of collaboration (though none are co-management institutions as they do not involve joint-decision making). Some such provisions are as follows:
Institutions mandated in the WLPA such as Sanctuary Advisory Committees and Tiger Foundation committees should be set up immediately and used as a platform to move towards co-management.
Existing community level institutions such as Van Surakshan Samitis (VSS), Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) and other self-initiated institutions should be also be used for this purpose.
Local self-governance institutions
District panchayat committees
Committees for the protection of wildlife, forest and biodiversity required to be set up by gram sabhas under Section 5 of STOTFDA should be encouraged in spite of the fact that this provision does not currently vest actual powers in the hands of gram sabhas.
We urge that eventually the above institutions are used towards full co-management of PAs, which will involve a clear delineation of powers, rights, responsibilities of various partners in the co-management committees. We also recognize that to achieve this, significant building of capacity is needed in official agencies, communities and NGOs.
To initialize this process, we suggest that some PAs are adopted as pilot sites for co-management, which can be extended to others based on relevant learning.
v. Strategies for Achieving Co-existence
We recognize that given the 2006 amendment to the WLPA and the recently enacted STOTFDA, the coexistence of forest-dwelling communities and conservation interests is no longer an option but and inevitability in areas where relocation is either not necessary or not consented to by local communities. In order to facilitate coexistence and direct this in ways that could lead to effective conservation and livelihoods security, it is important to consider the following factors:
It is crucial to note that under the WLPA, full vesting of rights has to take place in each PA, including all Critical Tiger Habitats and Critical Wildlife Habitats.
Issues of changing aspirations of traditionally forest-dwelling communities needs to be taken seriously. While STOTFDA allows the construction of basic amenities, we strongly urge that large-scale developments should not be allowed within PAs. Processes of negotiation between government agencies and the relevant community informed by availability traditional and modern knowledge of the ecology of the area, need to determine what can or cannot be allowed.
Local, traditional practices that are beneficial for wildlife need to be actively encouraged.
Livelihood alternatives need to be provided for destructive practices, e.g. mass hunting or hunting of threatened species. The extent of encroached land in each PA needs to be urgently assessed.
Mafia or vested commercial interests are a reality in many areas and this needs to be taken seriously through appropriate wildlife protection measures, include joint patrolling, breaking crucial links, the mafia chains and providing alternatives to local people involved.
Issues of human-animal conflict have to be factored into co-existence strategies, including site-specific measures for allowing control of problem animals/species.
Full use must be made of all available knowledge, including local/traditional/ and modern knowledge to determine how best to achieve co-existence.
A regular review of rights and activities must be undertaken by the co-management institutions to determine what human activities should be modified i.e. either reduced or increased.
Regular monitoring must be undertaken of the objectives of the PA.
i. Strategies for Relocation
We recommend that the relocation of traditional resident communities should be adopted as the last resort to securing a PA from harmful local human activities. Relocation must ensue only after the following processes have already occurred:
Objective evaluation of impacts of human activities on wildlife and wildlife habitat. Given that a thorough evaluation could be time-consuming, the use of thumb-rule indicators may be necessary even though these are not always reliable. The best available methods for doing this should be employed, including those available from traditional knowledge.
Negotiating specific modifications in human activities.
Providing livelihood alternatives
When carrying out relocation and resettlement of forest-dwelling communities, it is critical to consider the following:
The consent of both the household and the gram sabha to relocation must be taken in writing
The relocation process must be initiated only after the State Government has acquired the required funds and the relevant committees have been constituted.
In order to avoid interminable delays in the payment of funds to affected individuals, deterrents must be apply, e.g. an 18% annual interest on the delayed amount.
PA Managers or relevant authorities must have the option to outsource either some components or the entire relocation process if they feel they are not equipped to carry it out single-handedly. Partnerships with NGOs and/or independent experts could be fostered.
The same relocation package must be used to resettle all households in a given community to avoid conflict and resentment between landed and landless families.
In situations where the assets owned by a family surpasses the relocation package, the State Government should be responsible for additional funds that exceed the 10 lakh budget provided by the Central Government.
The new site for resettlement should be culturally and ecologically similar to the site from which the relocation occurred.
Various mechanisms for reviewing the quality of resettlement should be undertaken post the relocation process, e.g. through a PA Rehabilitation Board.
The cash allotted under the relocation package must be enhanced for remote and mountainous areas and North East India.
With respect to cash compensations, additional measures must be taken to ensure that individuals do not occupy any further forestland once they have already been given funds, e.g. in Madhya Pradesh, the final installment of the cash compensation is released only when the affected individual purchases a permanent asset.
Although, the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) and MoEF’s ‘Format for Preparation of Village Relocation Plan from Core/Critical Tiger Habitats’ provides an option between a ‘cash only’ and ‘relocation and rehabilitation by Forest Department’, we recommend that ‘land for land’ be considered the first option and ‘cash only’ only as a last resort.
Independent institutions should be involved to monitor the entire process of relocation and rehabilitation.
Memorandums of Understanding regarding the details of relocation package, including extent of resettlement facilities must be signed by between the community and the relevant government agency prior to initiating the resettlement process.
As participants of this workshop, we request the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to incorporate the above recommendations into existing CWH Guidelines and all future material on these critical habitats
Comments on the draft recommendations of the workshop held at Bangalore concerning Critical Wildlife Habitats in the Forest Rights Act-2006
P.N.UnnikrishnanThe following comments are sent for incorporation in the proposal by deletion of existing recommendations or as dissenting notes
1) The provisions for Critical Tiger and Wildlife Habitats, however require the use of scientific knowledge for identification, and a democratic process of consultations during the entire process from identification to notification to dealing with people’s rights. It is therefore critical, that the Central and State Governments do not rush the process of identifying and notifying Critical Wildlife Habitats and the implementation of already notified Critical Tiger Habitats. (Draft)
i. Criteria for Identifying Critical Wildlife Habitats
2) A key presumption operating here is that the decision on which PAs, how much and which parts of a specific PA are to be declared Critical Wildlife Habitats will be on a case-by-case basis. ( Draft)
Comments: There is no presumption in the Forest Rights Act which requires looking at only the existing PAs for identification of CWHs . The Forest Rights Act is an open document allowing declaration of CWHs for wildlife conservation. Critical wildlife habitat is a scientific concept. The terms applied in the Wildlife Protection Act, namely sanctuaries / national parks/ community reserves (or PAs in general) are legal categories of forest lands. A CWH cannot stand on its own for the purpose of wildlife management at present unless it is brought under any of the legal categories of PAs recognized as per the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act. Hence the reference in the FRA to CWHs should not be misinterpreted as CWHs in the existing the PAs. The profile of wildlife across the country must be mapped scientifically to identify their distribution and to know whether all elements are represented by the existing protection network and are safe in their habitat. This important task is yet to take place in all its seriousness. If gaps are identified, more PAs will become necessary.
PAs in the past were generally declared under the WPA mainly with a view to protect big mammals. Wild life as per the WPAct, encompasses all kinds of undomesticated life, plant or animal. No sane person will ever argue that all elements of wildlife in the country are protected from human depredation within the existing wildlife networks.
It is the right time to undertake proper field studies and identify critical wildlife habitats with an open mind. There cannot be a time bar on this activity. All elements of wildlife are important and must be ensured in situ protection as far as possible.
Shifting livelihood activities of forest dwellers from CWHs/ PAs may not be necessitated always unless demanded by the dependent people themselves for opting out for their own welfare or if co-habitation proves to be positively harmful to the survival of the key species of the area.
There is no need to rush through. The FRAct demands settlement of rights of forest dwellers ( which includes the duty to protect wildlife, forest and biodiversity)as the first task . The rights recognized can be selectively set aside subsequently to protect the interests of wildlife ensuring proper compensation to the right holders, if situation demands.
The most crucial aspect of CWHs is its strength to prevent development interventions of any kind within its geographical limits. The Act recognizes that development is anathema to wildlife conservation. The forest dependent people should allow sufficient space for the free movement of wildlife and have the responsibility to protect them. This means that the Right holders are subservient to the interests of wildlife (which are the ancient occupants of forests). The next to enter the scene are the tribal people and then the traditional dwellers. They have the next claim on forest resources. Forest is any undomesticated landscape apart from land legally notified as forests. The mainstream society has the last claim on forest land and resources. The Act has followed the grand old principle of the rights of primogeniture.
3) (8) catchment areas for watersheds ( Draft)
Comments: This is too general a statement and cannot be applied here with necessary rigour
4) In addition, we recommend that essential areas outside National Parks and Sanctuaries that are also crucial for wildlife, such as essential corridors, or sites meeting the above key criteria be considered as Critical Wildlife Habitats and be given legal backing through various option in the WLPA, Biological Diversity Act (?) STOTFDA, and EPA. ( Draft)
Comments: This is precisely the contention outlined in the comments above. Why “ in addition “ when we can state it without hiding underneath this phrase?
Comments: Instead of case-by- case, we should go for landscape as the unit.
vi. Strategies for Relocation
6) PA Managers or relevant authorities must have the option to outsource either some components or the entire relocation process if they feel they are not equipped to carry it out single-handedly. Partnerships with NGOs and/or independent experts could be fostered. ( Draft)
Comments: Why not entrust the entire process to the concerned communities themselves with necessary safeguards for utilizing the money in the most suitable manner?