Opinion divided on private sanctuaries next to reserves


Majority of those who attended stakeholders’ meeting sceptical of the concept

The stakeholders’ meeting on the State’s attempt to permit private sanctuaries adjoining national parks and tiger reserves, held in Bengaluru on Monday, elicited conflicting opinions. This only served to underline the division between the conservationists and officials on the initiative.

It also brings to the fore the imperatives of a thorough discussion on the subject given the sensitivity of the issue and the environmental and social ramifications.

Vandita Sharma, Additional Chief Secretary, Forests, Ecology and Environment, who chaired the meeting, said she has been flooded with views on why the private conservancy rules should or should not be introduced. Hence this calls for a comprehensive discussion on wide-ranging aspects before taking the initiative forward.

Some of the speakers cautioned that the concept of private conservancy was non-existent in the Indian laws or the Wildlife Protection Act. Hence the very legality of framing a policy on private conservancies in Karnataka has to be examined because the Wildlife Protection Act, being a Central Act, overrides the State laws if it is at variance or conflict with the former.

There were also views that one had to study the pros and cons that prevail in other countries where such a model is in place and wondered whether such a law should be proposed at all in the first place.

Sanjay Gubbi, wildlife biologist, said one should consider ecological and social aspects, the economic incentives local communities derive etc., and then go ahead with the experimentation.

“I am not sure how many promoters would be willing to invest as the area has to be first notified as a Private Forest under the existing legal provisions. Once it is declared as a Private Forest, then the laws governing the Forest Conservation Act, Supreme Court order of WP 202/1995, etc. will all become applicable,” he said.

Col. C.P. Muthanna ((retd) of Coorg Wildlife Society was sceptical of the concept reducing the conflict situation by merely augmenting the sanctuary boundary with private conservancy.

He feared it would only bring animals closer to human habitation and escalate human-animal conflict, besides increasing local communities’ hostility against the Forest Department and wildlife.

However, Sudheer, of Voice for Wildlife, opined that the proposal provided a legal framework for genuinely interested people keen to promote conservation and forests.

Allaying fears of commercial exploitation, he argued that the draft rules make it clear that only 5% of the private conservancy area can be utilised for tourism and no change of land use would be permitted for the remaining 95%. This itself was a disincentive to keep investors who are not conservation-minded, out of the picture, he added.

D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Foundation, said there was no rationale to suggest that by merely declaring a portion of land outside forest boundary as “private sanctuary” it would mitigate conflict situations. The general drift of the argument against the concept was that it cannot be pushed merely to promote tourism and one had to look at the ecological and social aspects as well.

P. Sridhar, head of Forest Force; Jayaram, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF); former Forest Department officials; wildlife conservationists; NGOs; and representatives of the hospitality sector were among those present.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 5:56:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/opinion-divided-on-private-sanctuaries-next-to-reserves/article24256479.ece

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