Reports on Environmental Agitation
Wildlife conservation and people's rights

A group of about 20 social activists, wildlife conservationists, researchers, lawyers, and media persons met from 10 to 12 April, 1997, at Bhikampura- Kishori in Alwar District, adjacent to the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan (western India). The meeting, called by the Indian Institute of Public Administration and Kalpavriksh, and hosted by Tarun Bharat Sangh, was an attempt to initiate a dialogue between those advocating the cause of wildlife protection and those struggling to uphold the human rights of rural communities living in and around wildlife habitats. Over the last few years, conflicts have erupted in many of India's national parks, sanctuaries, and other natural habitats, between officials and NGOs involved in wildlife conservation on the one hand, and local communities and social activists on the other hand. Clashes between the Forest Department and local people are increasingly common. A top-down, centralized model of conservation, which has ignored the dependence of local communities on the resources of natural habitats, as also their traditions of conservation, is one root of this conflict; other factors include the increasing politicization and commercialization of rural areas, breakdown of traditions, and the demands made by growing populations of people and livestock, all of which clash with conservation goals. Simultaneously, wildlife and wildlife habitats continue to be destroyed by the dominant industrial-commercial economy, and the rampant consumerism of the rich minority. The same governments which declared protected areas (national parks and sanctuaries) are today eager to open them up for mining, dams, industries, tourism, roads, and other so-called development projects, to the extent of being willing to even de-notify them. Activists, conservationists, and community members have increasingly felt the need to respond to these conflicts, and to explore ways of working together to conserve wildlife, ensure local people's livelihoods, and challenge destructive industrial-commercial forces. Yet dialogue among us has been limited and sporadic. This meeting was an effort to initiate a more systematic process of dialogue and mutual understanding.

The meeting agreed on a number of principles, strategies and joint actions. For further information on these, you can either request it from us or contact directly Ashish Kothari, I.P. Estate, New Delhi 110002, Tel: 91-11-3317309; Fax: 91-11-3319954; Email: akothari@kv.unv.ernet.in

The final paragraph of the meeting's statement clearly establishes its approach to conservation:

"We resolve to work together towards ensuring the conservation of species and habitats, and the traditional rights of access to resources of local communities, for which our main struggle will be against the destructive industrial-commercial economy."

Source: Ashish Kothari, Indian Institute of Public Administration, WRM News bulletin (World Rainforest Movement) Aug 1997--ASIA

Save the Gulf of Mannar

The Rs 1200 crore Sethu Samudram Ship Canal Project on the coast of Tamil Nadu entails the dredging of a canal across the Gulf of Mannar to facilitate sea travel between the East and West coasts of India without ships having to go around the southern tip of Sri Lanka.

The Gulf of Mannar is one of India's most biologically diverse coastal regions. Over 3600 species of plants and animals exist in this area. The sea grass beds along the coast are among the largest remaining feeding grounds for the globally endangered dugong. Additionally five species of marine turtles , innumerable fish, mollusks and crustaceans also feed there.

More than 50,000 people in 138 villages and towns spread over five districts rely directly on the fishery resources of the waters of the Gulf of Mannar.

Despite international recognition of the bio diversity potential of Gulf of Mannar, the shipping canal project seems posed for taking off. Bombay Natural History society (BNHS) is mobilizing public opinion and funds to campaign for the Sethu Samudram Project being dropped permanently.

The government has since approved a feasibility study and environment impact assessment at a project cost of Rs. 4.8 crore.

Is it time that we considered the creation of 'Marine Reserves'?

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