Published: Friday 31 October 2003

Life is not smooth-sailing

The article 'Community Reserves' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 6, August 15, 2003) is intriguing. The writer has done a praiseworthy analysis of the provisions on 'community reserves'; but there are certain points that require a closer look. No doubt the communities have the capacity to conserve, given the right tools. This is quite evident from the reports published from different parts of the nation and most importantly from the northeast. However, certain things must be noticed quite carefully; they are as follows:
Community reserves find their place in the Wildlife Protection Act mainly for the purpose of conservation of wildlife; ironically not to protect forests, though the two can hardly be separated
It is 'voluntary' for a community or an individual to conserve wildlife
The reserve is private or community land, not 'comprised' within a national park, sanctuary or a conservation reserve. The act does not talk about any change in the ownership after declaring it to be a community reserve.
The writer makes a wrong observation while saying "...the law states that once an area is declared a community reserve, all provisions which apply to a sanctuary then apply to the reserve". This is not true. Section 36 c (2) of the act only talks about section 18 (2), section 27 (2), (3) and (4), section 30, section 32, and (b) and (c) of section 33 to be applicable to community reserve. All these provisions consist of either procedural matter about declaring a community reserve or steps to be taken to conserve wildlife, which the community volunteers to do. There seems to be little space for conflict between the community and the state government as far these provisions are concerned.
The declaration of an area as a 'community reserve' for certain does not change the ownership of the land; constitution of the community reserve management committee (crmc), empowered with the authority to prepare and implement management plans for the reserve, provides for a system, which is expected to be quite close to self-rule. If the crmc can function independently without interference from outside sources (be it the state government or any other), then it can incorporate provisions that take care of conservation demands as well as the necessities of the community. However, the question remains: how independently are these committees expected to work? As rightly pointed out in the article, there is no clear provision as yet about the financial control of these committees. If a mechanism can be evolved whereby the representatives of the committee can be given certain beneficial incentives, similar to those provided under the joint forest management programmes, the financial constraints can be resolved to a certain extent. The incentives need not be monetary.

Student, Campus Law Centre,
Delhi University, New Delhi ...

The author replies

Thank you for reading the article. I would still stand by what I stated: the application of the provisions, meant for a sanctuary, to a community reserve creates potential conditions for conflict. Section 33 of the Wildlife Protection Act in relation to control of sanctuaries states: "The chief wildlife warden shall be the authority who will control and maintain all sanctuaries". However as per an amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act, section 36 d mentions : "the community reserve management committee (crmc) shall be the competent authority to prepare and implement the management plan for the reserve and it will take steps to ensure the protection of wildlife". There is, therefore, tremendous potential for disagreement.

Take the example of fire outbreaks. Communities residing inside a reserve may resort to burning of agricultural fields periodically, even while conserving the area. In this case there may be a clear conflict, especially pertaining to rules that prohibit the "use of fire" inside a sanctuary. If there was a dispute between the crmc and the chief wildlife warden, who would be taken more seriously? I leave that to you to answer. Nevertheless, the scope for discord is always there and no piece of law is perfect. There may be certain loopholes, but this should not deter communities from declaring an area as a 'commity reserve'.

Conservation biologist
Wildlife Trust of India, New Delhi...

Mail box

R C Sasidharan Nair praised the compost latrine designs of Paul Calvert, which functions with the help of earthworms (Vermitoilet is the best, Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 7, August 31, 2003, p2). He urged New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment to 'popularise' vermitoilets. I would earnestly support this request from Sri Lanka; it is time that humans dispose of the valuable excreta in a sensible manner, rather than flushing it away as waste to cause pollution downstream. We now need to make the water wasting flush systems ecofriendly as far as possible.

Colombo, Sri Lanka...

The filthy country

In January 2003, I returned to New Delhi after 35 years. I was very disappointed to find the air highly polluted. I also went to Chandigarh, but failed to see the Himalayan foothills. The carelessly disposed of waste -- plastic water bottles, plastic bags, polystyrene -- disgusted me. I noted the 'Say no to plastic bags' posters in New Delhi. Have they had any beneficial effects?

This year, the government of South Africa has at last banned providing plastic bags free of cost in supermarkets -- the customers have to either get their own bag or buy one. In Zimbabwe, the situation is even better. Drinks such as beer are sold in returnable glass bottles (for which a deposit has to be paid). In the supermarkets, cardboard boxes (in which the goods arrive) are stacked at the exit gate. The customers can grab hold of one and use it to carry their purchases back home.


Why Malda gets flooded

Before each monsoon, people of Malda are always panicky. Apprehensions about the extent of damage are rife. No one knows for certain what is in store for future. The flood situation in Malda as well as the neighbouring Murshidabad is very serious. If effective control measures are not taken soon, then both the districts may be wiped out from the map of India within the next 10 years.

Usually, there is a lot of difference between the state irrigation department's predictions, and what the local people perceive. The wrath of floods is increasing with every season, reasons for which are a mystery. Some allege that the state irrigation department has not constructed adequate embankments.

To set aside the misconceptions, Malda-based Centre for Ecological Engineering (cee) has conducted a study. As per the findings, the gap between the main tributaries of the mighty Ganga and Padma is closing at a rapid rate. The distance between the two large rivers is less than 800 metres in some places, and is being reduced after every flooding season. The people of Malda and Murshidabad largely seem to be unaware of the real reason behind floods. Some people blame it on the Farakka barrage. Others feel that it is the changing course of the Ganga that is creating problems. The main findings of cee are as follows:
The recurring floods are a result of abnormal rise in the water level of the Ganga due to excessive rainfall in the catchment areas
Most rivers and streams in Malda originate in the Himalaya. Melting snow due to global warming is increasing the river flow
Over last three decades, the increased number of settlements within the river territories is a reason of 'artificial human-made floods'
The construction of the Farakka barrage between Malda and Murshidabad in 1963 has hindered the natural course of Ganga. During the past four decades, the changing river course has accelerated erosion of the newly formed soil, both upstream and downstream of the barrage. It is apprehended that in future, Ganga could soon bypass the barrage, leaving it completely dry. Furthermore, a huge amount of silt and numerous boulders have been deposited at the sluice gates of the barrage. The riverbed is rising. At this critical point, the river is not able to hold its normal water flow, resulting in spillage and more rapid embankment cutting
River linking project will also lead to more adverse affects -- the rivers of the region will get more water

The grave situation should be soon dealt with. A flood control management plan and policy should be evolved. A series of flood control channels should be made to divert the extra water; turning wetlands into natural reservoirs can also mitigate the impact of floods.

Centre for Ecological Engineering
Malda, West Bengal

Please do not shift gear

The editorial, 'Same indifference' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 9, September 30, 2003), is interesting; it brings out many contradictions, that too, so crisply! I have been working on the uplands of northeast India, particularly those areas where shifting cultivation is sometimes the only livelihood option (with a Supreme Court ruling, the only other alternative -- based on forestry -- can no longer be availed). Some of the issues raised in the editorial have tremendous implications. The upland farming systems, particularly shifting cultivation, have become marginalised, and the farmers extremely vulnerable. The policymakers as well as the scientists are thus clamouring to replace the practice with alternatives, which are "sustainable and productive". Ironically, the system has become marginalised because of government efforts for "agricultural development" and conservation! Paradoxically, these systems have the highest diversity in terms of the number of crops, as well as within crops, particularly the cereals (rice, maize and millet). According to M S Swaminathan, these areas are the repository of agro-biodiversity and hence are invaluable as far as the agro-germplasm is concerned. Therefore, they are actually critical to ensure a hunger-free world! The importance of these germplasm, even for genetically modified crops is incalculable! Even without the cuts in agricultural outlay, or the debate highlighted in the editorial, the importance of shifting cultivation is grossly undervalued. Consequently, the farmers get pitiable returns for their efforts. However, if this potential was used properly, farmers from northeast could bargain for better concessions (as the germplasm can form building blocks of better varieties, the farmers can give access to them, if their demands are met). What is required, therefore, is more awareness generation with the help of hard facts, so that the civic society can take up the causes more effectively. This will then set the tone and the pace for more meaningful and stronger stands in meetings such as Cancun!

Adviser (Natural Resource Management),
International Fund for Agricultural Development-North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project,

Modified reality

The article 'Playing Hookey' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 9, September 30, 2003) decries the untested use of genetically modified (gm) crops. But the case of non- gm crops is no different. Undesirable features of these can be passed on to others if they are grown in a wrong season, or in a place where they either perform very badly or get affected by endemic pests and diseases. In fact, the suicide cases of sugarcane and cotton farmers can be attributed to crops grown in regions climatically unsuitable for their cultivation. As you may be aware, the government of Maharashtra is doling out huge subsidies to get the sugarcane industry out of a "self-created" mess. Either it should allow market forces to operate, or it should intervene forcibly and sensibly. The latter is not possible under the present political set-up, indulging in unabashed populism.

A similar situation may soon arise for newly introduced crops like soyabean, palm oil and rubber. There is nothing to prevent companies like itc and gtc from sponsoring cultivation of tobacco in catchment areas of the Narmada project. If this happens, are we going to exhibit apathy similar to the case of sugarcane cultivation? If we cannot counter the known ill effects of non- gm crops, do you expect the farmers not to succumb to the promises doled out by multinational corporations in relation to gm crops?



I am disappointed to see the single perspective-based comment on biotechnologically enhanced crops and their regulation ('Playing Hookey', Down To Earth , Vol 12, No 9, September 30, 2003). There is no input from either the company (that has been working within the Indian regulatory system) or any scientist with experience in this technology (who I am sure would be better equipped to comment on the supposedly 'super weeds' among other things mentioned in the article).

I am not sure what is meant by "poor-proof" policies! Bollgard is one of the most extensively researched crops, globally as well as in India. Monsanto has licensed its bt cotton technology to mahyco (Maharastra Hybrid Seed Company). mahyco has introduced the b t gene into its own Indian germplasm and modified the hybrids to suit the Indian environment. mahyco has worked for the last six years, in compliance with the regulatory requirements, to make the benefits of bt cotton technology available to the farmers of India.

During this period, the company has conducted over 500 field trials in different agro-climatic zones; it has even carried out extensive nutritional and bio-safety studies, as per the directives, and in cooperation with many national institutes. All the data generated from the trials and studies has been submitted to the officials as required. It is on the basis of the findings that mahyco received approval for the commercialisation of b t cotton in March 2002.

Director, Public Affairs, Monsanto, India ...

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.