Environment Ministry revises wildlife habitat guidelines

Stung by the criticism of forest rights activists, wildlife activists and scientists regarding its initial draft guidelines for determining critical wildlife habitats issued in February, the Environment Ministry has now come out with a revised version.

The Ministry was forced to withdraw the earlier guidelines on March 4 after protests that they would facilitate the forced relocation of forest dwellers and tribal communities from wildlife parks and sanctuaries.

Critical wildlife habitats (CWH) are defined under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, as the “areas of national parks and sanctuaries where it has been specifically and clearly established, case by case, on the basis of scientific and objective criteria, that such areas are required to be kept as inviolate for the purposes of wildlife conservation…”

In its preamble to the guidelines, the Ministry emphasised that it “is in no way intended to cause or force resettlement or relocation of Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers from National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries,” in a bid to ease the concerns of activists.

The new guidelines envisage a bigger role for the gram sabha, whose free informed consent must be given before any relocation is carried out. It also seems to ensure that forest rights are settled under the FRA before a CWH can be declared in an area.

An expert committee – which includes members of the gram sabha, an ecologist, a tribal welfare NGO and a social scientist apart from the Forest Department's officers – will now take the main responsibility for determining the habitats. Under the earlier guidelines, the process was to be initiated by the park manager, with a token committee only involved in consultations with forest rights holders.

The new guidelines also provide for a National Steering Committee to take a final call on the notification of such habitats.

The Ministry has invited comments and suggestions from the public over the next 30 days before it finalises the guidelines.

  • Ministry forced to withdraw earlier guidelines after protests
  • Gram sabha's consent must before any relocation