To comply with court deadlines, States issue notification without following rules

Communist Party of India MP D. Raja has expressed concern at the State governments notifying buffer zones in tiger reserves. He argued that the move would violate the livelihood rights of lakhs of people.

In a letter, he asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to halt the exercise and ensure that the Supreme Court is informed of the actual legal and ground positions. Failure to do so will amount to violation of the rights of lakhs of people and ensuring that tiger conservation is once again seen as an excuse by the forest bureaucracy to empower and enrich itself.

Driven by the Supreme Court’s deadlines, the State governments are hastily notifying “buffer zones.” The Wild Life (Protection) Act of 2006 requires that such zones be “aimed at coexistence between wildlife and human activists with due recognition of the livelihood, developmental, social and cultural rights of the people…,” and the limits of such areas be determined on the basis of scientific and objective criteria in consultation with the gram sabha concerned and an expert committee.

“As per information available to me, none of these steps is being followed. There are no publicly available scientific and objective criteria. The Environment Ministry is yet to specify what [kind of] activities will be permitted in buffer zones and what will not be. In the absence of … [such guidelines] there can be no meaningful consultation with anyone — and in particular not with local communities engaged in livelihood activities. Moreover, in the time that has been granted by the Supreme Court, meaningful consultation is simply not possible,” Mr. Raja said.

The implementation of the Forest Rights Act is not complete in most of these areas. This problem is compounded by the fact that, in 2007, in a similarly time-bound and illegal fashion, almost all tiger reserves and some additional areas were notified as “critical tiger habitats” without any public input or scientific study. “This was done by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. As a result, the present buffer zones have to include large areas outside the original reserves, including many tracts of agricultural and revenue lands, and even entire towns.”

It is not surprising that this has already led to a conflict, Mr. Raja has said. In Tamil Nadu, protests have erupted in all tiger reserves — including some led by the CPI — against the “illegal” notification of buffer zones. Yet, the State government has proceeded with a notification in violation of law.

“The combination of the illegal declaration of critical tiger habitats and the now illegal declaration of buffer zones is to nullify the 2006 amendment to Wildlife (Protection) Act, which was intended to ensure that tiger reserves are administered in a democratic manner that respects people’s rights,” he said.

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