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India's champions of biodiversity

Glistening in the cloud of ever-increasing incidents of man-animal conflict is a silver lining. Chetan Chauhan reports.

delhi Updated: Oct 19, 2012 01:46 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Glistening in the cloud of ever-increasing incidents of man-animal conflict is a silver lining. It comes from several heartwarming stories - that of poachers turning tiger protectors in Kerala, villagers launching a community movement to save olive ridley turtles in Orissa, and villagers in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra joining hands with the forest department to rejuvenate the green cover.

The authors of eight such episodes were awarded the very first India Biodiversity Awards-2012 at a conference of over 180 countries on Thursday. The awards were given away by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan and representatives of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The fact that around 40,000 local residents at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala earn their living from wildlife tourism turned traditional hunters into protectors of the big cats.

"We turned a problem into an opportunity," said Pramod Krishnan, the brainchild behind the project.

Meanwhile, women from Gundlaba village learnt about the importance of biodiversity after a devastating cyclone in 1999.

"It was the mangroves that saved us," said a representative of the Pir Jahania Jungle Surakasha Committee, which was set up after the incident to rejuvenate the foliage and protect the world's biggest nesting site for olive ridley turtles. And now, after 12 years of work, the mangrove cover has risen by 63% and the fish catch per family from one to five kg per day.

In Rajasthan, where forests are hard to find, villagers from Udaipur district felt that the Forest Rights Act- 2006 would lead to encroachment and destruction of wooded areas. Their perception, however, changed when they got rights to collect forest produce in return for ensuring protection of forested areas under the Van Uttan Sansthan scheme.

The Shankarpur village panchayat in Maharashtra, on the other hand, used funds allocated under the Mahatma Gandhi National Guarantee Scheme to rejuvenate depleting forests through check dams.

UNDP officials, however, agreed that the awards failed to take into account incidents where people were affected by actions taken by forest department officials.