Consultation organized by ICCA Consortium Members KRAPAVIS and Kalpavriksh delves into communities’ concerns with protected areas, potential implications of draft global targets on area-based conservation, and domestic legal tools and locally determined strategies to strengthen community rights in this context
By KRAPAVIS (ICCA Consortium Member)
As governments gear up for the final round of negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, many grassroots and civil society organizations are turning their attention toward the potential implications of this new instrument at the national and local levels.
From 24-26 June 2022, more than 65 people from across India gathered at the Oran training center in Alwar, Rajasthan, for a grassroots consultation organized by Krishi Avam Paristhitiki Vikas Sansthan (KRAPAVIS), with the support of Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group (ICCA Consortium Member and host of the South Asia regional coordination team) and the ICCA Consortium.
The objectives of the consultation were to:
- Understand, engage with, and deliberate on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and related targets, with a particular focus on the draft target on protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), and their possible implications on the ground in India in general and in the state of Rajasthan in particular.
- Understand communities’ concerns and priorities regarding area-based conservation.
- Discuss and collate the plethora of issues with protected areas across Rajasthan.
- Discuss and collate information on threats to communities and their conserved areas (particularly to Orans and the commons) and an action plan to address these threats.
- Understand, engage with, and deliberate on different legal categories of protected areas, particularly looking at Community Reserves, Conservation Reserves as well as the Forest Rights Act as legal tools for inclusiveness in protected area governance and management in the context of Rajasthan.
The consultation included community leaders, researchers, technical experts, NGO representatives, and government officials from the National Biodiversity Authority, Rajasthan State Biodiversity Board, and Livestock Development Board. Although there was a particular focus on the state of Rajasthan, the consultation also included people working in and around wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves in several other states in India.
One of the major issues discussed was the eviction and relocation of economically poor communities in the name of ecological conservation, which had led to the loss of human habitats, loss of livelihood resources, and difficulties in accessing forests and commons. Expansion of protected areas in this manner has created a lot of problems at the community level. State decisions about protected areas have ignored constitutional protections, and inequality is growing at all levels.
Participants underscored that conservation should be contextualized with due recognition of communities’ livelihood needs and customary rights.
The following four cases – each of which needs immediate attention and support – illustrate different aspects of dislocation caused by protected areas:
Expansion of Protected Areas
Bandh Baretha Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
There is a proposal to extend the boundary of the Sanctuary and people feel threatened by impending dislocation. Livelihood resources and commons in the area are already threatened by mining. The extension of the sanctuary will only add to and intensify the existing difficulties.
Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
The pastoralist Raika community living around the Sanctuary has lost access to the forest and commons inside it because the permits for grazing were withdrawn and entry into the forest is restricted as Kumbhalgarh has also been declared as a Tiger Reserve. It is not only the Raika’s traditional livelihoods that are breaking down but also the inter-community relations based on pastoralist ways of life.
Ranthambore National Park (Tiger Reserve), Rajasthan
People dislocated from the core area in the early phase are yet to be resettled adequately. Two communities, Meena and Gujjar, were displaced. It has been particularly difficult for the pastoralist Gujjars who, without access to forests and grazing land, were forced to adapt to an agricultural way of life. It should also be noted that once a village is identified for dislocation, all development projects in the village come to a halt and basic rights and services such as water, health care, and school take much longer to secure in the new settlements.
Expansion of Mining Areas
Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan: This Sanctuary provides a habitat for rare, endangered, and threatened species of flora and fauna. In an arid region, rainfall is minimal and erratic. The water used by the flora and fauna within the Sanctuary and by nearby villages primarily originates from the streams of water that flow from the mountainous area during the rains. Most of the communities that own livestock depend heavily on the grassland for grazing and on the nearby water body and its catchment areas, where the water flows from the adjacent hills. As per the guidelines and circular dated 31 July 2013, the Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) extends up to 10 km around the Tal Chhapar Sanctuary and covers the Gopalpura village and the adjacent mountainous area. However, under the Draft Notification, the abovementioned area is excluded or reduced to 3 km from the ESZ, which would lead to the granting of the Environmental Clearance by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and thus the resumption of commercial mining. Companies then undertook illegal commercial mining in the form of stone crushing activities.
In addition to these four cases, the consultation also considered several other interrelated issues.
Local and tribal communities have been protecting forest areas through their ways of life, and their traditional practices and knowledge are outstanding. Forests have religious and cultural significance (such as Orans) in the lives of the tribes. In many protected areas, the core and buffer areas are opened up for tourism, which is causing problems for both local communities and wildlife. Livelihoods that are based on non-timber forest products and local agriculture and animal husbandry are disappearing.
Several issues emerged from the discussion on dislocation caused by protected areas: lack of any kind of assessment before dislocation that would have helped in systematic resettlement; lack of both adequate resettlement as well as adequate rehabilitation; neglect of the Forest Rights Act 2006 and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, with the former securing the rights of tribal and other forest dwelling communities, and the latter recognizing tribal communities’ right to self-governance; and neglect of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation Act 2013.
In addition to long-standing issues with exclusionary protected areas, new forms of energy production are posing additional challenges for communities. For example, developers are undertaking solar energy projects. Since solar is considered renewable energy, it is exempted from environmental impact assessments, even though the projects encroach on village pastures, water bodies, and community forests such as Orans. Social impact assessments are also not followed in planning and undertaking resettlement and rehabilitation. Once again, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation Act 2013 has been neglected.
Recommendations for the government
Participants agreed on the following recommendations for the government:
- The State of Rajasthan may adopt an inclusive conservation approach in the implementation of the Biological Diversity Act2002, Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and Forest Right Act 2006.
- The conservation efforts of organizations like KRAPAVIS and their networks may be utilized by the State Biodiversity Board in capacity building of Biodiversity Management Committees and preparation of People’s Biodiversity Registers.
- The State Biodiversity Board of Rajasthan needs to make efforts to identify and notifying of potential Biodiversity Heritage Sites (with special emphasis on the Orans/Dev Van) under the provisions of Section 37 of the Biological Diversity Act.
- Awareness generation, capacity building, and experience sharing programs may be conducted with the selected panchayat functionaries to operationalize the Biodiversity Management Committees and preparation and upgrading of People’s Biodiversity Registers; and
- Village/panchayat level strategy and action plan for the conservation of biodiversity may be developed.
Conclusions and resolution
Participants discussed several issues related to inclusive and rights-based approaches to conservation during the consultation. Among other follow-up actions, they agreed that at least three state-level forums need to be constituted, namely:
- A forum for issues related to protected areas in Rajasthan.
- A forum for issues related to Orans in Rajasthan; and
- A forum for the implementation of issues related to the Forest Rights Act in Rajasthan.
Kalpavriksh and KRAPAVIS took the responsibility for coordinating the Protected Areas Forum; KRAPAVIS took the responsibility for coordinating the Oran Forum, and Seva Mandir will be the best organization to coordinate the Forest Rights Act Forum. These three organizations will work closely with each other on all three forums with FES (Foundation for Ecological Security) support.