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Thursday, December 13, 2012

1.4 lakh trees felled to save tigers!

By Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Dec 13, 2012, 03.07 AM IST NAGPUR: Call it ultimate irony of conservation. The state forest department earlier this year felled an unbelievable 1.4 lakh trees to resettle two villages from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur district. To relocate Jamni and Navegaon (Ramdegi) villages in Tadoba forest department used around two densely forested compartments over 500 hectares, an area roughly equal to 450 football fields. Together they had over 1.4 lakh trees that had to be felled. The shift will free roughly same sized patch inside the forest reserve over which these villages were situated for wildlife. The action has triggered a debate among conservationists whether relocation of villages from sanctuaries needs fresh guidelines. While one school considers it essential price to be paid, another section thinks the damage done is much more than conservation benefit derived. Some 226 families in the two villages have been settled at new location. The remaining 236 families (128 from Navegaon and 108 from Jamni) availed Rs10 lakh cash option. Jamni villagers are being relocated near Amdi around 14km from Tadoba in the north and Navegaon near Khadsingi adjoining the reserve. State principal secretary for forests, Praveen Pardeshi claimed that the approval under Forest Conservation Act (FCA) from the Centre to divert 250 hectare land each for Jamni and Navegaon came way back on February 14, 2002, and April 21, 2003, respectively. However, a similar proposal to relocate Fulzari village in Pench reserve during the same period was rejected by MoEF as the relocation site was situated in reserve forest in Deolapar. The site was later changed. Officials also claimed no other suitable site for relocation acceptable to villagers were available. Tiger population in Tadoba remains stagnant at 43 due to lack of space. The spillover population is dispersing into the landscape resulting in conflicts. Outside the reserve they become vulnerable to poaching and hence relocating the villages was a dire necessity. Conservationists say loss of habitat and shrinking forest cover has led to dwindling tiger numbers. They have also been fighting to stall forest land diversion for mines and and irrigation project. Against this backdrop, destroying dense forest and mass tree felling for conservation purposes seems specially jarring. The government has already spent Rs50 crore on relocation of these two villages. The money is gone and the ecology has also been damaged. On the flip side, the wildlife got more space and the space freed up can accommodate 6-7 tigers and good herbivore population. This is assuming the forest regenerates in freed areas, which is not a given. The sites of villages shifted years ago are still meadows. It may take decades, even centuries, for dense canopies to form there. Moreover, the resettlement sites are themselves in wildlife corridor. Cutting down trees and settling people there may only mean more man-animal conflict. That would truly be regressive as these villages had been living with tigers without any conflict. Pardeshi says Union government granted FCA clearance because it also knew that when we give forest land to these villages, we get equivalent non-forest land which has higher ecological value. "The relocation cannot be compared with industrial or irrigation projects. From mines, we don't get non-forest lands as in case of Jamni and Navegaon. Besides, the land so selected was as per the choice of villagers," Pardeshi explained. "It is on record that there is no revenue land available in Chandrapur. Besides, people's consent matters. Under such circumstances, this was only option," said Kishor Rithe, member of high court-appointed monitoring committee for relocation work in TATR. "You cannot compare trees felled for relocation and that for mining. In relocation, you get prime strategic land for re-forestation and wildlife even if you lose tree cover elsewhere. In mining you lose forest without getting any forest. The new sites are close to existing villages," said Rithe. Even Kalyan Kumar, deputy conservator of forest (DyCF), Tadoba (buffer) and member-secretary of district rehabilitation committee, felt the land allotted to the two villages was on the edge of the forests. This was the only viable option. "If you don't give a good deal, villagers won't agree to move out. In case of Navegaon and Jamni, we achieved twin objectives of wildlife conservation and people's livelihood security," he said. Infografx The Rationale * Forest dept chopped 1.4 lakh trees to relocate two villages Jamni and Ramdegi out of Tadoba * This was done as revenue or degraded forest land was not available * Proposals for forest land diversion were cleared in 2002 and 2003 and are being implemented now as funds came last year * Forest department achieved twin objectives of tiger conservation and livelihood security of villagers * People cannot be forced to leave and the new places were selected with villagers' consent The Way Forward * Revenue or degraded forest land must be found to resettle villages. * More villagers must be encouraged to take Rs10 lakh cash option * Need for cash incentives beyond the package money to save forest land being diverted for relocation * Melghat could reap benefit of relocation as several pieces of 'E Class' land are available. Zudpi jungle lands could be made available

National body clears projects in SGNP, GIB sanctuary

By Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Dec 13, 2012, 03.01 AM IST Goa to take another shot at Jawaharlal Nehru national urban renewal m...Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission: Land Acquisition Del...CID launches its Kolkata BureauKumar Sanu releases Aamar KolkataKolkata must protect its greenery NAGPUR: The 27th Standing Committee meeting of National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) on Wednesday approved two projects inside the protected areas (PAs) in the state. The two projects include Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL) proposal for double laning of railway line in Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Mumbai, and laying of 220 KV Tuljapur-Solapur-Lamboti electricity transmission line through Great Indian Bustard (GIB) Sanctuary, Nanaj. Confirming the development, NBWL member Kishor Rithe stated that the committee also discussed crucial wildlife policy matters like poor fund allocation to manage critically endangered wildlife species in India. The Standing Committee, highest decision making body on issues related to projects affecting PAs, also discussed 26 old project proposals for forest land diversion falling within 10km from the boundary of PAs. It also took up 22 fresh proposals from different states. The railways project in SGNP will need diversion of 17 hectare forest land for double laning of railway line from Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) to Howrah. The railway line is Indian Railways quadrilateral linking the four metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. The state board for wildlife has already recommended the proposal on June 7, 2012. The NBWL cleared the project as it will benefit local population and release much-needed additional capacity in the existing railway line, which shall be utilized for running additional passenger services. The chief wildlife warden has recommended the proposal with the condition of underground or elevated railway line at corridors instead of conventional railway line on ground to minimize threat and disturbance to wildlife. Similarly, the panel also cleared proposal for laying transmission line passing through GIB Sanctuary by MSEDCL. The state board for wildlife has recommended the proposal on June 28, 2011. According to MSEDCL, the line is passing through the non-forest areas of the sanctuary. Since the entire taluka is under the GIB Sanctuary, no alternative arrangement is possible. GIB is an endangered species found in the area. The chief wildlife warden has recommended the proposal. Another member MK Ranjitsinh mooted a proposal for discussion on allocation of funds for wildlife conservation schemes other than under the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

Mass hysteria claims a tiger’s life

Uncomfortable questions arise over the brutal killing of a starving tiger in Wayanad in Kerala recently. Wildlife authorities and the State Government too are responsible and must take the blame for it A tiger was shot dead near Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Those who pulled the trigger on our national animal — egged on by a mob — had the ‘license to kill’, invoking Section 11(1)A of the Wildlife Protection Act for “self-defence”. But was it really so, given that the tiger had almost collapsed with the two tranquilliser shots, before the trigger was pulled? And how did the situation come to this stage? Individual tigers may need to be killed when circumstances warrant it. In extreme circumstances, when a tiger turns man-eater, the law provides that the tiger may be eliminated by the order of the Chief Wildlife Warden. This was clearly not the case here. The tiger had killed cattle, for which there is provision for compensation. Moreover, this year, as compared to earlier years, the number of cattle kills were substantially lower at around 60, from 130 odd in the last year. So why was he pursued, mobbed and lynched? The situation that led to this tragic climax can be pinned down to myth, media and mismanagement. For the past two months, Wayanad has been in the grip of mass hysteria, due to the myth that there are ‘too many tigers’, allegedly 80, in the sanctuary — a fallacy perpetuated and hyped with much pride. Given that Wayanad is barely 350 sq km, this was highly unlikely, raising questions about the ad hoc camera trapping and interpretation of results done by the state. Importantly, the rumour strangely discounted the fact that Wayanad is part of the Nagarahole-Bandipur-Mudumalai tiger complex, and that there would be a floating population of tigers, criss-crossing man made State and reserve boundaries. This was later proven from the photographic database available with the Wildlife Conservation Society-India. Their tiger monitoring programme spanning over two decades, has pictures of over 600 individual tigers. Using their stripe-pattern identification software, it was confirmed that the tiger killed was first camera- trapped in Nagarahole in February 2005. It was also established that this was the same ‘cattle-lifting’ tiger that had been captured, and then released, earlier in November 2012. He was old, over 10, and clearly not in robust health. Why then was the decision taken to release such a tiger, knowing that there was every risk of it turning cattle-lifter — and thereby a potential conflict hazard? Given the high density of the Nagarahole-Bandipur complex of about 10-12 tigers per 100 sq km, their high reproduction potential, coupled with high disturbance and human habitation, particularly near Wayanad, conflict is to be expected. Wildlife managers need to be geared up to be able to handle such situations. One can understand the rage and plight of those who lost their cattle, and the helplessness of officials caught in a frenzied mob, but it’s difficult to fathom the unpreparedness of the forest staff and the administration to handle the mob, given that conflict — even fatal conflict with elephants — is pretty much a way of life in Wayanad. And who will question the media, which treated every cow killed as ‘breaking news’, or the politicians who jumped in the fray promising “elimination of the tiger”, drumming up hysteria and building hostile public opinion, which, in this case, led to attacks on forest staff, conservationists and highway blockades. What also added fuel to the fire was the panic that had spread over. Wayanad is being proposed as a tiger reserve. But the Chief Minister rushed in to placate the people there that that would not happen. In the first place, there is no such proposal. And why should it be met with such animosity anyway? Wayanad is already a ‘protected area’, and giving it the status of a tiger reserve would not have meant any further restriction, either on people, or on any development concern that the State might have. Nor does a tiger reserve mean forced eviction of people — another myth that is being perpetuated by certain lobbies. Yes, there is provision for an attractive rehabilitation package for voluntary relocation from core/critical tiger habitats, and increasingly, people facing hardship living in remote forests, are opting for it, to seek better opportunities and join the mainstream of society. The tribals living within Wayanad have been canvassing for relocation for years. Forty nine families were successfully relocated last year, but there are about 700 families waiting to go. They face immense difficulties — no access to basic facilities, crops, even lives, destroyed by elephants. They have petitioned the Union Minister for Environment and Forests to allocate funds for their relocation. If anything, making Wayanad a tiger reserve would have meant easier funds allocation for voluntary relocation, more focussed wildlife management, support for conflict mitigation, etc. The killing of the tiger is a costly tragedy not just for the tiger, and for conservation, but for the hitherto peaceful people of Wayanad who seek no harm for animals and only better lives for themselves. (The author is a member, National Board of Wildlife)