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Celebrating for posterity

The time for celebration of the International Day for Biodiversity, which falls on May 22, has come once again. On May 22, 1992, the work on the agreed text of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was culminated at Nairobi. However, in 2010, a serious retrospection of the issues concerning biodiversity is needed to understand the gravity of the problem.

India, which accounts for 2.4 per cent area of the world's landmass, contains 8.1 per cent of the world's biodiversity and is one of the 17 like-minded Mega Diverse Countries recognised at CBD. India is known for its megafauna such as tigers and elephants managed under the flagship programmes called Project Tiger and Project Elephant. The public perception of biodiversity in the form of scenic nature and wildlife neglects the ubiquitous presence of community conservation efforts such as sacred groves, which are found all over India. The widespread distribution of biodiversity within and beyond the ownership of forest departments governed by several overlapping mandates in India has made the management of biodiversity extremely complex.

Amongst the several pertinent issues model of governance for biodiversity conservation and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the commercial use of the biodiversity are posing great challenges. Governance is an important issue in the management of biodiversity, especially protected areas. The example of Sariska Tiger Reserve is an eye-opener where the tigers became locally extinct as a result of the functional lapses of the forest department. Many of these issues in case of Sariska are common for several protected areas in the country. It points towards the fact that the approaches of the conservation management in India have grossly neglected the dependence of the local communities on the forests for livelihoods. The success of eco-development programmes has remained at the pilot scales. Out of more than 600 protected areas, not even 100 protected areas have addressed issues of dependence of local communities on the surrounding natural habitats. The estimated over 200,000 sacred groves in India only symbolises the importance of community-based conservation but even today efforts of local communities remain unknown for the purpose of conservation management.

The implementation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, is struggling with herculean mandate as against the miniscule infrastructure such as to establish over two lakh local Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) to execute documentation of the People's Biodiversity Register, safeguard the vast biological resources and associated traditional knowledge against the biopiracy and so on.

There is a huge deficit on behalf of states to have full-fledged State Biodiversity Boards to strengthen the functioning of National Biodiversity Authority.

The biodiversity conservation strategies need to develop the approach at a larger landscape level, going beyond the existing single large protected areas and taking into consideration the supporting functional value of several smaller patches of the forests in the vicinity of the protected areas. There is a need to develop the directories of potential conservation areas in form of Community Conservation Areas, traditional conservation practices like sacred groves, etc, corridors, habitats of migratory species. The availability of the geo-specific information along with the requirements for conservation management of such areas will help devise the conservation options.

Where the long-term sustainability of biodiversity and wildlife depends on the secure and inviolate protection of their habitat, the relocation and settlement of the rights of people should be undertaken sensitively. The relocated community should be compensated beyond the value of land in terms of employment opportunities or share in revenue may be in the form of preferential shares in the eco-tourism business. Displaced people without land should be assisted through skill retraining and employment options, preferably linked to conservation.

Amendments in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for community and conservation reserves provide new opportunities to involve communities in conservation.

These provisions can also be used to change the status of existing protected areas so as to involve local communities in management wherever necessary to reduce the conflicts. Similarly, the provision of declaring National Biodiversity Heritage Site as per the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, can be applied to a range of community conservation efforts such as of sacred groves, Nistar forests etc. Conservation management can, thus, be institutionalised by the involvement of local communities.

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