Leave them alone!

in the wake of Madhya Pradesh ( mp ) government's controversial decision to denotify parts of its reserve forests, the Supreme Court ( sc ) recently directed all state governments and Union territories not to denotify any area inside the 526 national parks and sanctuaries till further orders. The mp government had made the decision on the ground that it does not have funds to maintain the forests.

The bench comprising Justice S P Bharucha, Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Shivraj V Patil has given four weeks' time to the state governments and Union territories to file their responses to the public interest litigation filed by the Centre for Environmental Law of World Wide Fund for Nature-India. The petition alleged that though Parliament passed the Environment Protection Act in 1972, states have not taken effective steps to comply with the mandatory provisions under Section 19 to 25 of the act. The provisions stipulate that district collectors of the areas concerned are to to determine the extent of the rights of persons over land falling within the limits of the national parks and sanctuaries.

"Omission on the part of collectors to determine the rights has led to a severe impact on the biodiversity of protected areas,' the petition said. It is said that there has been a quantum leap in the human population within protected areas and more land is now being used for residential and commercial purposes.

"It is pretty clear that with increasing population (both human and livestock), the pressure on land is bound to increase. But we never think about what can we do with the 77 per cent of non-forest land we have in India? Is it not possible to improve the productivity of this land instead?' queries P Raghuveer, conservator of forests, Andhra Pradesh.

"I think the move to denotify protected areas is dangerous and against the interests of both wildlife and local people. Commercial interests will have the last laugh,' says Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh, a Pune based non-governmental organisation ( ngo ). He points out that they may be backed by strong commercial reasons. In Himachal Pradesh, a part of the Great Himalayan National Park was denotified last year. On the face of it, it was for two villages inside the park, but actually for a hydel project that otherwise could not have come up in the area, says Kothari. Similarly, there are mining, dam-building and other interests always waiting to latch on to popular discontent and then move in.

Secondly, says Kothari, there is a need for a more inclusive integrate model of conservation in which both the parties are benefitted. "In such a model, which we call Joint Protected Areas Management, local people, forest officials, ngo s and others will jointly plan and implement measures for conservation and meeting people's livelihood needs,' he says.

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