Ban the ban!

Wildlife authorities must think carefully before imposing any blanket ban

Published: Monday 31 December 2001

Our wildlife department has done it again. One more ban added to the kitty of wildlifers -- on 60 species of marine life, including sharks, coral and conch shells. And, as expected, there's a major row that's erupted over the ban. Fisherfolk are unable to comprehend how on earth they are going to identify the 60 species and avoid netting them. But above all, were they ever consulted before this blanket ban? Yes, consultations were held, but afterwards. Would it be wrong to call that as just another cruel joke on the people?

And this is not the first time such a ban has been declared without a thought about its repercussions or whether it would work in the first place. Take for instance, the ban on sandalwood or ivory. One very much appreciates the need to conserve and to prevent mindless destruction of a limited resource. But banning has never worked. If ban on sandalwood generated smugglers like Veerappan, that on ivory saw our tuskers decimated and gory tales like the recent one from Corbett National Park.

What we witness in every such instance of ban is a total lack of public involvement. Moreover, the decision is invariably not based on scientific study, which makes the ban stand on even more tenuous grounds. It thus becomes very difficult to justify to the people involved, especially the local people whose livelihood is directly impacted. What such a ban invariably ends up doing is to alienate the people from wildlife, often turning them against the very species one hopes to conserve.

The answer lies not in erecting a barrier between the local people and wildlife, a link that has survived generations, but to evolve a system through them. The best way to manage our natural resources is to make the locals the custodians and not enemies of wildlife. Why not seek their opinion too and in coordination with them try and evolve a method of regulation. For instance, a quota system to regulate fishing. Or alternative resources to meet their livelihood, particularly for artisans. True, any solution is beset with problems but there is nothing like the people regulating themselves rather than toeing the line drawn by the government. Why not give more credibility to the wisdom of the people. Let them decide.

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