Long overdue

Published: Tuesday 15 April 1997

three cheers! The Indian Board of Wildlife meets at last, presumably because of the pressure from non-governmental organisations. The apex decision-making body in India in the field of wildlife was established to come up with policies and strategies to preserve and enhance the country's wildlife population; the board has done anything but that. Indeed, it is difficult to know what it has done, if anything, for it had not met since 1988, though it is scheduled to meet once every four years. Not that the meeting took any concrete action (see page 14).

But it is clear that holistic decisions cannot be taken if the board does not meet. That is why we must applaud the meeting. Decision-making and strategy formulation are often left to committees that protect their own interests and not think of the country. With 81,000 animal species and tens of thousands of wild plant species to care for, this is far from ideal. If meetings are not even held, how can action be expected. In India, even when proper decisions are taken, it takes ages for them to be implemented. Such apathy only goes to show the government's lack of concern for the conservation of wildlife - something that is evident even in other areas of the environment. This lack of concern has manifested itself in short-sighted policies and improper implementation of the few decisions that are taken.

Many new national parks and sanctuaries were created, raising their number four-fold, from 131 in 1975 to 521 in 1996. But these protected areas, based purely on guns and guards, could not work. Besides, the local people were not consulted before the declaration of protected areas and imposition of laws under the Wildlife (Protection) Act. Their rights have been snatched away without any alternatives being provided. People have even been forcibly displaced. Moreover, in some places the wildlife population load has been far in excess of the capacity of the reserve. All this has led to the alienation of the people and in an increase in human-animal conflicts.

Not that the board meeting will make any dramatic positive impact. A lot of concern was expressed about the fast-declining tiger population, but no concrete measure was taken to save the animal. One suggestion that was made was to make the board a statutory body. This will ensure that it can meet and take decisions, irrespective of who is the Prime Minister - the ex-officio chairperson. Besides, there was a general consensus that state governments should be brought into the board, as they have to implement the policy guidelines and decisions taken at the Centre. This may not add up to much, unless wildlife conservationists begin to show some wisdom and politicians, some political will. It seems that in the animal world of politicians, neither humans nor animals count.

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