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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 23, Dated 09 June 2012

    Q&A Sanjay Gubbi, 41, Wildlife Conservationist

    Wherever relocation is being undertaken post-relocation support and scientific analysis through independent agencies should be made mandatory

    Gubbi has ensured protection of tigers and other wildlife in Western Ghats of Karnataka by persuading the state to close night traffic on highways close to Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks. He has also played a vital role in the institution of new social security and welfare measures for forest watchers and guards in Karnataka’s protected areas

    Sanjay Gubbi

    Sanjay Gubbi

    TEHELKA: You have been fighting a long battle to restrict vehicle movement on roads built in Protected Areas. How successful have you been?
    We have been very successful in restricting night traffic through two of the most important tiger reserves in the country; Nagarahole and Bandipur. It was a very hard battle but we showed that if we constantly work with people who matter, success stories in tiger conservation are not illusions. Recently, the government of Karnataka sanctioned a budget of Rs 18 crore to divert part of the Mysore-Mananthavadi highway to outside the tiger reserve. This unique initiative is perhaps the first of it's kind in the country. If this realignment is taken as a model we can surely replicate it in other protected areas where vehicular traffic is a serious problem.

    Relocation and rehabilitation of people from forests for wildlife conservation has persistently posed huge challenges. What are the reasons behind it and how can they be resolved?
    There are many reasons for the failure but the critical ones include meagre funding, little or no involvement of affected people in either designing or implementation, lack of empathy and finally non-existent post relocation support and monitoring. This was very true when relocated families involved forest dwelling communities who neither had social or political skills to demand better facilities. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has come up with a package that is attractive and when well implemented can act as a bonus for many families. However, it is important that relocation be voluntary. This package should also be extended to all protected areas, important wildlife corridors where families are keen on relocation. The CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) can also be utilised to consolidate wildlife habitats wherever opportunities exist. Finally, wherever relocation is being undertaken post-relocation support and scientific analysis through independent agencies should be made mandatory. I feel this is extremely important to measure the social and economic success of relocation.

    The number of forests guards manning the jungles are abysmally low in India. How do you keep the poachers away then?
    Vacancies in the forest department go over 50 percent in many cases. This is an area where budget allocation should be prioritised. Secondly, the welfare benefit for field-level staff has to be improved. In tiger reserves, revenue generated from tourism that is held by tiger foundations should be largely utilised for staff social security and welfare measures. The forest department is now burdened with several other responsibilities including implementation of MGNREGA, rural development programmes, tourism, civil works and many other analogous activities. This has to be reduced and the old conventional method of foot patrolling has to be re-energised in places where it has been given lesser priority. This is a time tested method that played the most crucial role in helping wildlife numbers bounce back in the past.

    Wildlife tourism has increased at an alarming pace. What challenges does it pose in the protection of plants and animals. Is there a need to call for strongly cut down on the tourist movement in jungles?
    Tourism could have been an important ally in wildlife conservation. Unfortunately, unplanned tourism has now become a bane. In the guise of ‘eco-tourism’, tiger habitats are getting crowded. Apart from this, only a very negligible percentage of the revenue is parted for wildlife conservation or for local people. The Tribal Trekkers and Trackers Eco-Development Committee in the Periyar Tiger Reserve is perhaps one of the few true eco-tourism initiatives in the country that contributes to local forest dwelling communities and is run with their involvement. We need to bring scientifically evaluated carrying capacities identified for every protected area and implement it stringently. Additionally, the declaration of eco-sensitive zone comes in very handy. This can help in reducing mushrooming of tourism resorts, protect corridors and bring in some discipline to the unobstructed development outside reserve boundaries. We need methodically shift our tourism to outside critical wildlife areas and encourage it in reserved forests abutting tiger reserves, wherever possible.

    What are the big challenges in wildlife conservation that India needs to focus on in next five years and how can these challenges be faced?
    We need to first reorient ourselves and agree that wildlife conservation is about saving species and their landscapes. Wildlife conservation in our protected areas and other expanses that have the potential to save tigers and other key species should take precedence. We also need to look at success stories, adopt best practices and get into the action of saving tigers rather than just being skeptical. We always have burning issues; deficit, unemployment, terror and several others, but conservation of wildlife and their habitats is a not-for-profit enterprise similar to primary education and health. There will be no dent on our aspirations of 9 percent growth if we keep our hands away from these tiny islands. We need not be left haunted with the kind of mistakes the West committed and lost most of it's large vertebrates in its zeal for economic development, and are now willing to invest heavily to bring them back. Political parties ruling the state and Centre have divergent philosophies towards conservation. Similarly coalition governments also create grave challenges as coalition partners can have hugely differing opinions. However I feel political will can be made available, to an extent, if we are willing to engage in the process. Most wildlife biologists are largely disconnected from real world conservation. We need not shy away from involving ourselves to inform those who hold the baton and have the capabilities to turn the table and get genuine commitment for conservation. If we do not get involved into practical conservation it will be like writing books on driving and actually not driving a car. We should remember if we fail to respond, there are plenty of developers, industrialists, EIA consultants, pseudo experts who are jostling to offer advise on wildlife conservation.

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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 23, Dated 09 June 2012

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