Poachers turning into tiger protectors in Kerala, villagers starting community movement to save Olive Ridley Turtles in Orissa and villagers in Naxal hit Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra joining hands with forest department to rejuvenate forests are some of the success stories in otherwise increasing conflict between human and biodiversity in India.
Eight of such change-makers from India were awarded first India Biodiversity Awards 2012 on Thursday at the conference of over 180 countries in biodiversity by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
What remained untold was increasing conflict in Indian forests with growing Naxalism and poor locals turned into refugees in their own land for industrial use of natural resources. “Through the awards we have tried to send a message that protection of biodiversity was possible even without direct government intervention,” said S N Srinivas, additional India director in UNDP.
Around 40,000 locals earn daily livelihood from tiger-related tourism activity resulting in traditional hunters turning into tiger protectors in Periyar tiger reserve in Kerala, a wildlife area doing well despite being home to biotic pressures --- Sabrimala Temple and Mullaperiyar Dam. “We turned a problem into an opportunity,” said Pramod Krishnan, a brainchild behind the innovative project which led to similar initiatives in some other tiger reserves in India.
The project has sustained as income of the local beneficiaries has constantly increased and protecting biodiversity has resulted in better lives of many of them.
“Earlier the tourist used to stay for a day in Periyar. Now, they stay on average for 2.5 days. Longer stay means better income for locals,” Krishnan said.
Thousands of kilometers on eastern coast of India, women of Gundlaba village realised that saving biodiversity was self-protection after the devastating cyclone of 1999. “Traditionally mangroves had saved us,” said representative of Pir Jahania Jungle Surakasha Committee, set up after the cyclone to rejuvenate the mangroves.
Village women, worst hit by such natural disasters, joined hands to protect mangroves and local biodiversity including world biggest Olive Ridley Turtles nesting site at Gahirmatha beach. Work of 12 years has resulted in the mangrove cover increasing by 63% and income of locals increasing with fish catch increasing from one kilogram per family to five kilograms per family a day.
In Rajasthan, where forests are a scarce commodity, villagers in Udaipur district felt that the Forest Rights Act of 2006 would lead to encroachments and destruction of forests. Their perception, however, changed with them getting rights to collect forest produce and in return ensuring forest protection under the state government’s Van Uttan Sansthan.
Shankarpur village in Maharashtra succeeded where majority of Indian states has failed and granted community rights to use forestland. The village panchayat also used funds allocated under Mahatma Gandhi National Guarantee Scheme to rejuvenate depleting forests through check dams, a rare convergence of government schemes for benefit of biodiversity.
UNDP officials, however, agreed that the awards have failed to look at realistic efforts to look at conservation efforts by people at odds with the Forest Department officials.
Over a million people in India have been displaced because of forceful evictions in name of conservation and development.