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Make villagers stakeholders in conservation: Sunita

ENVIRONMENTALIST SUNITA Narain believes eco-tourism incomes from Corbett, Panna and other tiger reserves must go to villagers residing within three-km radius of the sanctuaries if conservation attempts are to be successful in the long run.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2007 16:09 IST

ENVIRONMENTALIST SUNITA Narain believes eco-tourism incomes from Corbett, Panna and other tiger reserves must go to villagers residing within three-km radius of the sanctuaries if conservation attempts are to be successful in the long run.

The method: Levying a 30 per cent cess per bed on hotels adjoining national parks with the money going to nearby villagers and also towards maintaining the wildlife reserves.

“A proposal to this effect has been submitted to the government which has, in principle, agreed,” said Narain who chaired the Tiger Task Force appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the wake of the Sariska poaching scandal.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Director also feels that the government’s delay in notification of pesticide residue levels finalised by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) could have potentially devastating health consequences.

‘‘Our studies have shown that high pesticide levels are resulting in cancer, cerebral palsy and other diseases in several states including Punjab, Kerala and UP,’’ Narain revealed. “Although governments denied the reports the findings were corroborated by the Indian Council of Medical Research,” she added.

“Two years have passed since the BIS submitted the finalised standards but the government is delaying their notification owing to pressure from powerful firms. But we are determined. We’ll keep at it like a dog worrying a bone,” the eco warrior smilingly promised mediapersons during a freewheeling chat at Hotel President Planet on Wednesday.

There’s a dire need to involve villagers as stakeholders in conservation programmes for the continuation, and proliferation, of big cats, “especially in MP which hosts around 60 per cent of the total number of tigers in the country,” said Narain, who shot to fame after alleging that soft drinks sold across the country contained unacceptably high residual pesticide levels.

‘‘Wherever forests are declared as areas protected for the tiger, people living on the fringes lose all traditional rights but gain no fresh benefits in the form of a share of tourism revenues. Naturally, this makes them hostile to conservation,” she pointed out.

The CSE director asserted that there were no quick-fix solutions for tiger conservation, but maintained that knee-jerk methods like banning the quarrying of diamonds at Panna would not have the desired effect. Instead, Narain called for a sustainable mining policy. “If mining is banned the loss of employment could result in an increase in poaching activity,” she pointed out.

The environmentalist said the increasing common ill-effects of pesticide contamination in foodstuff highlighted the urgent need for legally enforceable standards and institutional reform in the governance of food safety. “The urgency is even greater in water.

In foodgrains a certain amount of pesticide can be condoned, the so-called ‘poison versus nutrition’ trade off. But pesticide in water is simply unacceptable,” she added.

She attributed the growing degeneration of underground and overground water reserves to the dying of traditional water harvesting and reuse techniques like construction of small check dams and building ponds to trap rainwater.

“Although both sewage and industrial effluents pollute water sources damage by the former can be checked and even reversed relatively inexpensively. Detoxifying water polluted by industrial waste, on the other hand, is prohibitively expensive and so should be avoided at all costs.”

In response to a query she said setting down standards for pesticide levels in municipal water supply was not feasible, as it would entail monitoring of thousands of urban local government bodies.