Experts attending a consultation on community-conserved areas here this past weekend emphasised the need for taking into account people’s varying needs and changing institutional milieu while taking up projects for environmental protection and called for enactment of laws to strengthen the role of communities in conservation efforts.

The Acts simply existing on paper are not enough to put a halt to ecologically destructive processes unless they are backed by community support, said the activists, researchers and civil society leaders at the two-day consultation organised by a group of non-government organisations.

The consultation formed part of an ongoing series leading eventually to an international congress on common property resources to be held in Hyderabad in January 2011. It was aimed at developing a framework leading to better intervention capabilities on issues pertaining to community-conserved areas.

The participants noted that local communities in the past had an important role in conserving important aspects of local habitats such as woodlands, groves, pastures and water bodies. Their importance for the livelihoods of local people is of great significance in the context of the present conditions of aridity and semi-aridity.

Western parts of the country provide a good example of a diverse range of tracts that survived largely because of community support and motivation over the past several decades, said Purnendu Kavoori, founder-member of the Centre for Social Ecology, one of the organisers of the event.

Several case studies describing different experiences of various communities were presented, ranging from interventions in the ‘Orans’ and watersheds of Alwar, forests of southern Rajasthan, tribal areas of Dang in Gujarat and desert areas of western Rajasthan. “Efforts at environmental protection without catering to the needs of local communities will not find much support and cannot be sustained except through the use of force,” said Dr. Kavoori.

The NGOs represented at the consultation included Kalpavriksha of Maharashtra, Gujarat-based Foundation for Ecological Security and Delhi-based Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development. Prominent among the participants were Ashesh Kothari, Viren Lobo, Shubu Patwa, Yash Sethia, Vishnu Sharma and Aman Singh.

The speakers emphasised the need to explore the potential role of laws and enactments in strengthening community initiatives and discussed in particular the significance of the Forests Rights Act which strengthens the needs of local communities. The possibilities opened up by the Environment Protection Act for guarding local habitats by declaring them as ecologically sensitive areas were also put forward as an important course of action.

A directory of community-conserved areas prepared by Neema Pathak of Kalpavriksha was also released on the occasion.