Press on Environment and Wildlife
Tribal Bill sparks forest fears (May Week 4 (2006)) The Centre’s plans to open up forest land for use by tribals has alarmed conservationists who say this will spell doom for national parks and sanctuaries from Kanha to Kaziranga.
And with that, the efforts to protect wildlife — such as the plunging tiger population — will go up in smoke, they argue.
Changes suggested by a joint parliamentary committee to the tribal forest rights bill, to be taken up in the next session of Parliament, has escalated the long-drawn war between conservationists and champions of tribal rights.
The revised Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005 — tabled in Parliament last week — seeks to regularise forest dwellers’ rights on the land they have been cultivating as well as forest produce.
The original bill provided land rights to those living in forests since October 25, 1980; but the revised bill pushes the cut-off date to December 13, 2005, allowing virtually everyone, including encroachers, to have land rights.
It also transfers the crucial powers to implement the new law from the forest department to local communities.
Environmentalists fear these measures virtually hand the land and forest mafia a licence to plunder.
The bill comes at the cost of the Wildlife (Protection) Act Amendment Bill, 2005, which proposed, among other things, measures to check the dwindling tiger population in the country. The wildlife bill has now been shelved.
The tribal bill in its original form had been tabled in Parliament on December 13, 2005, before being referred to a 20-member standing committee.
The original bill allowed village gram sabhas to make proposals on land rights and government officials to decide on them, but the House panel wants matters to be settled in the village assembly itself.
The committee also wants forest-dwellers to have the right to make regulations to protect wildlife and forests, which, environmentalists fear, may be abused to plunder forest resources.
The shelving of the wildlife bill is itself an issue. The bill proposed a National Tiger Conservation Authority, allowing the Centre’s Project Tiger to have direct control over the sanctuaries and reserve forests where tigers are disappearing. They are now under the control of state governments.
The Telegraph, Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Three elephants, a bison killed in last 24 hours in N Bengal (May Week 4 (2006)) The conflict between man and nature snuffed out the lives of three tuskers in the jungles of north Bengal today.
Early in the morning, a one-month-old elephant calf was killed by a speeding passenger train bound for Alipurduar. The mother-calf duo were crossing the railway tracks near the jungle division of the Good Hope Tea Estate in Damdim (Dooars), about 40 kms from Siliguri. The mother also suffered serious injuries.
In the evening, around 5.30 pm, a herd of 10 to 12 elephants gathered near the spot. One strayed from the herd and was run over by the NJP-bound Mahananda Link Express. The elephant was critically injured and has reportedly died. The Forest Department is yet to confirm the death.
Last night, another tusker was killed under similar circumstances at Rajabhatkhawa near the Buxa Tiger Reserve in Jalpaiguri district. Also, a bison was killed by a speeding goods train last night near the Chapramari railway station in North Bengal.
The speeding trains in the Siliguri-Alipurduar broad gauge line has led to such incidents. The issue has become a major point of concern for the state’s forest department.
“We have been opposed to the idea of having broad gauge lines through the forest areas. Sadly, such incidents have occurred in the past too. It only proves that the High Court guidelines have been flouted by the Railway,” said VK Yadav, Deputy Chief Wildlife Warden.
These areas lying near the forest have been demarcated as “elephant crossing zones”. According to the guidelines, all trains passing through these areas and while taking a turn, have to lower speeds—the specified maximum speed being 30 km/hour. They are also required to blow their whistle continuously while passing through these areas to alert any wild animal that might be crossing the tracks.
More water in Bhakra ensures cool summer for northern states (May Week 4 (2006)) In the next two months of summer, the North India will not face the shortage of water supply from the Bhakra Dam. Because from the beginning of the filing period of the Bhakra Dam reservoir from May 15, the water level of Bhakra Dam was today reached 48 feet more than last year’s level. The high-level of water in Bhakra Dam will also help to generate more power and the consumer states to get more power than last year.
The water level of Bhakra Dam was 1584 feet yesterday while last year the level was 1536 feet on same day.
Officials of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) said that so for the consumer states, including Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi are getting water supply as per their demand. In June and July when the water consumption would increase much more, then the demand of water supply to these states will be met due to high-level of water in Bhakra Dam.
As the monsoon is expected normal and water flow from the melting of the glacier is much more than last year so on the end of the filling period the water level of the Bhakra Dam will also touch 1680 feet, the optimum level to store water.
A good sign at present is that the inflow of the water due to the melting of the glacier is 48,000 thousand cusec while last year the inflow of the water on the same day was 10 thousand cusec. While the water level is high the discharge of the water to the consumer states is also ho high. The outflow was 29 thousand cusec this yeaar while last year the outflow was 16 thousand cusec.
The water in the Bhakra Dam reservoir is stored during the filling period from May 15 to September 15. In May and June, the inflow of the water in the Bhakra Dam is mostly due to melting of the glacier besides the rainfall while in July and September the inflow of the water in dam is mainly due to rainfall in its catchments area and lesser due to melting of the glacier, the officials added.
When contacted the Chairman of the BBMB, Mr Rakesh Nath, said, “We have been supplying water to the consumer states as per their demand and power supply more than last year. The water supply to these states will remain as per their demand as water level of Bhakra Dam is much higher than last year”.
The Chief Engineer (Generation) BBMB, Nangal, Mr H.S Nag, said that power generation was much more than last year. As the inflow water was high they would have more water to generate power.

SOURCE : The Tribune, Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Can banks ensure eco-friendly economic development? (Issue of the week, May Week # (2006)) Bank lending can be used to mitigate eco risks and ensure compliance
The Sardar Sarovar Project has been in the news, not as a symbol of economic development as it was intended to be, but as that of environmental and social degradation.
The reason is evident. Very large projects, by virtue of their size, implementation and investment objectives, coupled with weak or compromised government policies, can create environmental and social risks.
The Sardar Sarovar project is no exception. It is highly likely that more environmental and social issues would arise in future infrastructure projects too.
In the last few years, two powerful forces have joined hands with the government in realising India's infrastructure dream — the private sector with its managerial and financial resources and keen commercial sense, and the financial system, consisting primarily of banks and, to a lesser extent, the capital market. This brings us to the pertinent issue — who is to manage environmental risks?
Prudent risk management demands that risks be allocated to parties that can best bear them at least cost.
Can environmental and social risks of infrastructure projects be allocated to stakeholders? If not, who should bear these risks — the government, the private sponsors or the lenders?
It seems only logical that the government and the private sponsors, who conceive, promote and manage large infrastructure projects, also bear the environmental risks. Lenders are mere facilitators.
Yet, in many countries, environmental activists have begun targeting banks in such deals. In one such case in 2001, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) targeted a banking major for allegedly financing environmentally and socially harmful projects.
It launched a campaign encouraging students and others to boycott the bank's credit cards and other loan facilities. There have been several such actions against banks in other countries as well.
Banks in India have begun to play a key role in infrastructure financing through the project-financing route — the most preferred alternative for project sponsors.
Environmentalists believe that banks need to take legal and moral responsibility for the economic and social consequences of their business practices.
That apart, lenders have economic incentives to ensure that environmental risks are mitigated. Banks typically earn upfront fees for advising on project deals and tying up the financing. They earn income from the funds lent.
Banks would, therefore, want the project to achieve early financial closure, and generate cash flows to service the debt once the project is on stream.
If environmental risks hamper the project's progress, lenders face substantial credit risk, which could translate into reputation risk. In contrast, private sponsors have the real option of abandoning projects with possibly less economic and reputation losses.
Forty-one top international banks have subscribed to the Equator Principles formulated by the IFC in the late 1990s (last revision in February 2006) to ensure that infrastructure projects being financed by these banks reflect socially responsible and environmentally sound practices.
In adopting these principles, banks undertake to (a) review carefully all project financing proposals from sponsors, and (b) not provide loans to projects where the borrower is unable to comply with prescribed environmental and social policies and processes.
It is imperative that the Reserve Bank of India and banks put in place appropriate measures on the lines of international best practices to ensure that they do not finance environmentally or socially harmful projects. Some of the immediate measures to be initiated are:
The RBI should devise stringent criteria for environmental assessment of infrastructure projects,
Oversight mechanisms should ensure that banks and institutional lenders involved as advisors or lenders in infrastructure projects, uncompromisingly, adopt these criteria,
Make strict compliance with stipulated environmental and social standards a precondition for financial closure,
These criteria could be on the lines of the Equator principles and customised for Indian projects,
Leading project financing banks in India, to gain international and IFC acceptance, should be encouraged to join the select band of banks following the Equator principles.
The government faces the challenge of striking a balance between economic development and environmental or social degradation.
The onus is, therefore, on the banking system to ensure that the need for economic development does not outweigh the need for environmental protection.
SOURCE : The Hindu Business Line , Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Forest staff working without resources

The officials responsible for safety of forests and ensuring the control over illegal felling of tress are finding it difficult to perform their duties in absence of resources needed for the same.
The Deputy Rangers, forest guards and beat guards deputed in Jabalpur forest circle are performing their jobs by taking risk of their lives. However, the two security chowkis have been established in Jabalpur and the staff there has been equipped with all facilities but in other places conditions are very serious.
Officers on condition of anonymity revealed that the employees and officials on field are not having wireless sets nor arms. Result of this is that in case if they sight any person doing illegal act they not unable to intimate about the same to the head office immediately so that help and assistance can be provided to them. Out of limited sources and manpower on many occasions they fail to make arrest.
At the same time it has been also informed that the highly placed officials of forest department have allotted vehicles to their near and dear officers and the officers who are actually in need of vehicles for patrolling in forest areas are deprived of the vehicles and they move all the way on foot which provides an opportunity to the wood smugglers to easily go ahead with their proceedings.
Officials also inform that the proposal of purchasing new gun is very old and with passage of time it has gone in the cold bag.
The forest team with no arms in hand and wireless when enter in the forest areas there is always risk of wild animals as well as attacks being made by the people.
In recent days only one team of forest officials and employees were attacked by poachers and they faced severe stone pelting. However, in this case Deputy Ranger achieved success in confiscating fresh wood and the vehicle in which it was being carried.
However, the culprits escaped from the site. This was an example of one case, similar cases occurs every other day. The officials on condition of anonymity revealed that if they are provided with vehicles and other equipment they can exercise 100 per cent control over illegal felling of trees.

SOURCE : Deccan Herald, Saturday, May 13, 2006
Cheeping pheasants in Delhi Zoo (May Week # (2006)) Delhi Zoo has undertaken a unique project to protect the pheasants. Selected by the World Pheasant Association (WPA) to house and run its breeding and conservation programme, the zoo has had its first major success with the pheasants this season.
It has recorded the birth of young ones of red jungle fowl (20), silver (5) and Edward's pheasant (5). The zoo also houses ringnecked pheasants and golden pheasants.
The pheasants are barometers of the health of all major terrestrial habitats. The group that has some of the most beautiful and threatened birds in the world is also among the most useful birds known to man. However, with their numbers dropping steadily, there is an urgent need to conserve and push up their figures, say experts.
"`The Delhi Zoo through the project aims to develop and promote the conservation of pheasants. The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) is funding the project and we have created an exclusive zone for the birds. The WPA is providing technical assistances under the programme," said zoo director D.N. Singh. Under this programme, the zoo has marked out an exclusive section with specially made enclosures -- closed to the public -- that allows the birds the right environment and enables close supervision.
"India has 17 pheasant species of which eight are listed on the endangered list. These are a group of very useful birds. In fact, the red jungle fowl is being used in several research projects and with the threat of the avian flu looming large the world is re-looking at these birds now. The conservation and breeding of these beautiful group of birds is essential," said WPA (India) president Samar Singh.

SOURCE : The Hindu, Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Haryana launches vulture conservation project (May Week # (2006)) Royal Society for the Protection of Birds assures funding for the scheme
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) relating to conservation and breeding of vultures was signed on Tuesday between the Haryana Forests Department and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in the presence of Haryana Minister of State for Forests Kiran Choudhary.
According to Ms. Choudhary, the Haryana Forests Department had spearheaded vulture conservation efforts in collaboration with BNHS, the country's oldest conservation organisation, with active support of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The Forests Department would ensure smooth running of the project by providing land and giving necessary permission and clearances while BNHS would organise the funding.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of the UK has assured funding to BNHS for running the project for at least 15 years, she added.
Ms. Choudhary said extensive research carried out at the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre had established that most of the vultures in India died due to the use of Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle.
She said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured her recently that a meeting of the relevant ministries would be convened soon to take a positive decision in this regard.
She claimed that that the pioneering work done by the Centre in identifying a safe drug, Meloxicam, which could be given to cattle, was of great significance. It would go a long way in saving the vultures from extinction.

SOURCE : The Hindu, Wednesday, May 03, 2006
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