What initiatives have been taken in the forest and wildlife conservation initiatives in Maharashtra over the past two years?
Over time, we have realised that signage and message boards about saving the forests was not enough. These boards were not addressing a major hurdle to conservation — the attitude that common property is nobody’s property. This could only be corrected by giving people a direct stake in the protection of their forests, a sense of ownership.
Also, it is very difficult for 8,500 forest guards to protect the state’s 61,000 square kilometres of forest. It became clear that if we roped in locals to help protect the forests, a lot more could be done.
What steps have been taken to involve the locals in the conservation process?
We are working on implementing existing schemes in many villages. Residents in more than 2,000 villages across Maharashtra have now been given forest rights and are helping in the conservation effort while also supplementing their income through eco-friendly means. A total of 1,800 vacant forest guard positions have also been filled over the past 18 months, most of them with youngsters from local villages.
What has been the outcome of the above initiatives?
One of the greatest indicators of the positive impact of the various initiatives is that the numbers of tigers have gone up in the state from 169 in 2010 to 210 currently.
Also, people have begun to treat the forest department as its friend and not somebody who is just there to harass people.