Conservation at what cost?
STATE-SPONSORED conservation of natural resources in India has been in existence for many centuries and has been carried out in a variety of ways.
Today, the generic term of "protected areas" includes various national parks, sanctuaries and game reserves, among other areas which the state considers worthy of conservation. Himraj Dang's book, Human Conflict in Conservation, addresses certain crucial questions facing conservation in general and the management of national parks and sanctuaries, in particular. It also explores potential strategies to overcome some of the problems of human-wildlife conflict.
In the opening chapters of the book, the author examines the kinds of natural resource requirements that people have and the historical trends in forest and wildlife management. The aims of the National Wildlife Action Plan and the weightage given to conservation in the Eighth Plan, are also touched upon. The findings of a 1989 study by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, on the status of management of national parks and sanctuaries in India, have been summarised.
A major portion of the book deals with the author's own work on the Rajaji National Park in Uttar Pradesh, conducted in 1989. There is, unfortunately, very little discussion of the methodology used or the fieldwork done during this period. The four chapters on conflict and conflict resolution in Rajaji primarily depend upon reports written between 1985 and 1987 by V K Verma, the former deputy director of the park, and a 1986 study on pressure and dependency conducted by Food and Agriculture Organisation expert Klaus Berkmuller, previously associated with the Wildlife Institute of India.
Rajaji National Park has the most complex set of problems. These include the presence of Gujjar settlements, the extraction of non-wood forest produce and the grazing of livestock. The solutions offered to solve the existing conflicts are not the author's own but those which were made by many well-known scholars. Although most of these suggestions were made in the 1980s, virtually none of them were executed for various reasons.
For instance, the Gujjars continue to remain inside the park today. Attempts by the authorities to curtail bhabbar grass extraction have led to near-violent encounters between them and the local people. So, is Rajaji to go down as yet another failure? The author does little to analyse why these suggested strategies have not solved any problems.
In the chapter entitled Comparative Study, 15 examples have been given of protected areas all over the country and the human-natural resources conflict to be found in each. It is unclear on what basis these cases have been chosen. Nevertheless, they make an interesting mix of some better-known cases, such as grazing and fodder extraction from Bharatpur (Keoladeo National Park), and lesser-known ones like the taking over of Manas Sanctuary by Bodo extremists.
It would have been useful if more accounts of the successful managment of such conflict were included in this chapter. The author mentions the establishment of the Ranthambhor Foundation to "...supplement government efforts in trying to make the park sell to local interests through projects..." in Ranthambhor National Park. But there is no feedback on how effective these strategies were. Have they eased pressure on the park while helping people meet their needs from alternate sources? What has the distribution of benefits been like? How sustainable are these strategies?
In the case of Sunderbans, the innovative use of clay masks has been described as a measure to combat attacks by tigers but in the author's own words, "...the number of annual killings has been halved, though this does not conclusively prove the effectiveness of the dummies or the masks."
The book relies heavily on secondary sources but the manner of referencing these sources leaves much to be desired. The very first page of the "Errata" section lists 11 missed references to figures and appendicies that appear in the text. Elsewhere in the book, the author has given references wherever appropriate but even here inconsistencies of style exist. In fact, the bibliography should have been titled "references", as every single entry has also been referred to in the text.
More seriously, the book opens with a map of India showing the location of national parks and sanctuaries but carries no acknowledgement of its source. The map, in fact, appears in The Management of National Parks and Sanctuaries in India: A Status Report by Kothari et al (Indian Institute of Public Administration). Besides this, there are two maps of Rajaji National Park that have not been acknowledged.
The volume serves to make an impressionistic statement of what the problems facing conservation are. But it is not likely to be the basis of any concrete strategy. Recommendations for change will have to be backed by far more rigorous research than what we have here. However, what it does show is that it is time to ask more fundamental questions regarding the legitimacy of the present conservation strategies.
There is an extremely narrow middle path between conservation on one hand and meeting the needs of local people on the other. Apart from a handful of exceptions, we have yet to find this path.
--- Farhad Vania is a research associate at the Indian Institute of Public Administration and a member of Kalpavriksh, a Delhi-based environmental action group