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Resource Center
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Changing Stripes - A Call to the MOEF to Walk Its Talk
August 23, 2012

Call for Action
Click here to download 'Changing Stripes-A Call to the MOEF to Walk Its Talk-23 August 2012-EQUATIONS', 95.2kb. The same can be read below.

Click here to download 'Missing the Woods for the Trees'?-02 August 2012,118Kb.

Changing Stripes-A Call to the MOEF to Walk Its Talk

EQUATIONS

23 August 2012
        
To,                                   
Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister Environment and Forests
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Paryavaran Bhavan,
CGO Complex,
Lodhi Road,
New Delhi - 110 003

Dear Ms. Natarajan,

Subject: Submission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to the Supreme Court on August 22, 2012 in the case of Ajay Dubey vs. National Tiger Conservation Authority & Ors. (SLP (Civil) No (s). 21339/2010) asking for permission to review the existing guidelines for conservation of tigers.

According to your Ministry's affidavit, the said permission is being sought for two reasons: (1) in acknowledgement of the importance of the tourism industry in the creation of livelihood opportunities for local communities and their ensuing loss if the ban is permanently imposed (2) the hasty manner in which core and buffer areas of Tiger Reserves are being notified.

We have the following observations to make on the issue:
  1. MoEF lately, seems to be backtracking or reviewing a lot of its own guidelines and reports. The submission to the Supreme Court to allow for time to review guidelines for tourism in and around protected areas and WGEEP report are recent examples. This raises the question about the process of policy formulation in the first place. Further, it is an unhealthy practice, as these processes are time consuming both for the Ministry as well as the stakeholders who participate by commenting and suggesting improvements to the draft guidelines/reports/policies.
  2. Tourism in forest areas needs to be seen within the broader framework of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (henceforth referred to as WLPA) and The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (henceforth referred to as FRA). In this context, we submit the following:
a. The MoEF claims it is concerned about the process of demarcation of core and buffer areas that is being conducted in a rushed manner  over the past few weeks. However, your Ministry may recall that this is not the first time that processes have been bypassed as your Ministry has itself ordered for this process in the past and succeed in thereby notifying about 30,466 sq kms as core/buffers of tiger reserves.

We refer to your Ministry's order (through the NTCA) of November 16, 2007 to states with tiger populations to notify Critical Tiger Habitats (CTH) within 10 days of the receipt of the same. This was to be done by a 2-member expert committee headed by the State Chief Wildlife Warden in consultation with respective Park Directors. The motivations for this was to create the CTHs before the FRA could be brought into effect, which is more stringent in process and which in fact allows for Critical Wildlife Habitats (CWHs) and not CTHs. The year long delay in notifying the FRA though the bill was passed in 2006, the quick manner in which the WLPA amendment in 2006 were brought into effect and MoEF's motivation for the same have been discussed widely and also brought to the Ministry's attention by various adivasi and forest rights groups/activists across the country. (What needs to be noted is that in 2005, the amendment to the WLPA was introduced in the Parliament after the FRA).

b. The Ministry is using the fact that CTHs have not been mentioned in the FRA and CWHs have not been mentioned in the WLPA amendment of 2006 to highlight that CTHs are outside the purview of the FRA. However, it should not be forgotten that the FRA over-rules all other legislations prior to and after the passing of the FRA if they are impinging on the rights of adivasis and other forest dwellers to be granted. Given the gross violations in terms of process in declaring National Parks, CTHs and TRs, whether in the case of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and amendments made to it 1993, 2003 and 2006 and the FRA, implies that every single such declaration has to be checked for its legality.

This has also been repeatedly brought to the notice of your Ministry a fact it has chosen to ignore.

c. Ever since the rules for the FRA have been framed since January 2008, adivasi communities and forest rights groups/activists have been struggling to have the law implemented and for adivasi and other forest dwelling communities to have these rights recognised. Yet, the Ministry has never paid heed to this. Your Ministry behaves like the FRA does not exist citing the fact that MoTA is responsible for its implementation. In your current affidavit to the court asking for a review of processes for tiger conservation, this vital aspect before any protected area in the country can be notified finds no mention.

We find that the Ministry picks up community voices as per its convenience. While adivasi communities and forest rights groups/activists have been highlighting the haste with which core and buffers are being notified in response to the Supreme Court directive (dated July 24, 2012), the Ministry remains silent on the status of the implementation of the FRA (both in terms of process and the number of claims settled) in these same areas.

d. This makes us wonder if the Ministry has succumbed to the pressures of the tourism lobby and is only using these issues now as hostage to stall and buy time to revise the guidelines in the interests of industry.

There has been ambivalence in the rights recognition under the FRA, but the declaring/notifying of CTHs has been going on unabated. Between 2007 and 2009, area under tiger forests has increased by 22% from 25, 551 sq. kms. to 32, 878 sq. kms. During the same period the number of tiger reserves in the country jumped from 28 to 39 spread over 17 states with known tiger populations. In this process 2 violations of a very grave nature have been committed. (i) the definition of CWH in the FRA (Section 2 (b)) says that “..on the basis of scientific and objective criteria, that such areas are required to be kept as inviolate for the purposes of wildlife conservation  as may be determined and notified by the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests....” and Section 4 (2) (b) which says “...that the activities or impact of the presence of holders of rights upon wild animals is sufficient to cause irreversible damage and threaten the said species and their habitat” (ii) Section 4(2) “... provided that no forest rights holder shall be resettled or have their rights in any manner affected for the purposes of creating inviolate areas for wildlife conservation....”

There is no information in the public domain indicating that the required studies have been conducted or that any attempt has been made to uphold rights of the adivasis and other forest dwellers being affected by the creation of the tiger reserve. Therefore the commitment of the Ministry towards the implementation of the FRA is further questionable.
 
None of these issues raised are new to the Ministry and would have heard this repeatedly for the past 4 years. However, when the tourism lobby and a handful of conservationists raise questions of employment and livelihood and the threat of poaching, the Ministry chooses to do an about turn in its position of phasing out tourism in core areas of tiger reserves in 5 years, even if not an immediate ban. The NTCA has remained steadfast on this position despite receiving flack from the tourism lobby and conservationists alike right since June 2011, when the draft guidelines were made public for comments. This sudden change in position raises questions about the intentions of the Ministry and whose voices it chooses to respond to.

Adivasi communities and forest rights groups struggle for years before the Ministry and its state counterparts, the Forest Department, are even willing to listen to their perspective, much less act on it. However, resistance from the powerful lobby of the tourism industry and conservationists has such a dramatic impact! What makes the situation worse, is that the Ministry has decided to re-open the guidelines for tourism in and around protected areas for discussion in the  guise of concern for local communities when its interests have consistently remained elsewhere.

Based on the arguments laid out above, we the undersigned demand the following from the Ministry:
  1. Review legality of all Tiger Reserves in the country
  2. Stop any further processes of declaring/notifying core and buffer areas of Tiger Reserves until studies are conducted to prove the need for inviolacy.
  3. Immediately implement the Forest Rights Act in letter and spirit
  4. Make the tourism industry accountable to the communities by regulating tourism practice in and around the protected areas
Copy to:
  • Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests
  • Minister, Ministry of Tribal Affairs
  • Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs
  • Minister, Ministry of Tourism
  • Secretary, Ministry of Tourism
  • Supreme Court Registry
  • Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority
  • Members, National Board of Wildlife
We the undersigned:
  1. EQUATIONS
  2. Anurag Modi, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan
  3. Anita Mathew
  4. Ananya Dasgupta
  5. Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP
  6. Ranjan Alexander
  7. Gouranga Chattopadhyay
  8. Seema Bhatt, Independant Consultant
  9. Tanushree Gangopadhyay, Media person
  10. Alternative Law Forum
  11. Pushpa Achanta
  12. Deborah McLaren
  13. Dr. Padmavathi B.S, President, The Creative Tree Educational Foundation
  14. Alison Stacliffe, Founder, Tourism Concern
  15. Syed Liyakat
  16. Halasya Sundaram B. N.
  17. Anuradha Pati
  18. Krishna Ranga Rao Gujjari
  19. Mirza Zlfiqur Rahman, Partner, Gypsyfeet Travels, Assam
  20. Ganesh Anantharaman
  21. All India Forum for Forest Movements (AIFFM)
  22. Padmaparna Ghosh
  23. Viren Lobo
  24. Vivek Chettri
  25. Sumesh Mangalassery
  26. Sudhir Vombatkere
  27. Gururaj Budhiya
  28. The Shola Trust
  29. Dr.Vivek Y.Bhide
  30. Dr. Ashok Kundapur

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