India represents an ancient civilization with a long history of reverence for nature. The oldest nature reserves date back to around 200 BC. The presence of hundreds of sacred groves and sacred landscapes in the region bears testimony to the society's commitment to conservation.
There are number of government and civil society organizations active in conservation in India. These organizations have played a critical role in conserving biodiversity and bringing a large area under protection despite pressures exerted by more than 300 million people in the region. The success is largely due to society's respect for nature, the strong democratic traditions and appropriate institutions and policies. The challenge is to strengthen conservation efforts in the face of expanding population, increasing demand for wild biological resources and strong economic growth. Success in conserving biodiversity in the region can serve as a model for other hotspots around the globe that will inevitably encounter similar pressures.
The Union of India is a sovereign democratic republic with a parliamentary form of government. Legislative and executive powers of federal and state governments have been detailed in three lists of the constitution - the Union list which empowers the Federal Government, the State list which empowers the State Governments and the concurrent list by which both the Union and State Governments could legislate, although federal legislation has dominance over state legislation. The directive principles of state policy in the constitution mandate that the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
Federal Government Institutions
The MoEF formulated the National Forest Policy in 1988, the National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development in 1992 and the revised National Wildlife Action Plan in 2002. In addition to legislation and policy, the MoEF performs several statutory functions to enforce provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as amended by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 2002 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Some of these important functions include the approval (or otherwise) of proposals from state governments to divert forest lands for non-forestry activities, approval of working plans that enable commercial logging by State Forest Departments and environmental clearance based on impact assessments for establishing industries.
With a view to ensure focus on conservation of flagship species, the MoEF launched special conservation projects such as Project Tiger and Project Elephant. The MoEF has constituted “Steering Committees” for Project Tiger and Project Elephant that advise the Government on a range of policy, management and funding issues relevant to designated Project Tiger/Elephant reserves.
Several institutions of the Federal Government relevant to the Western Ghats fall under the purview of the MoEF. A partial list includes the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (IFCRE), Botanical Survey of India (BSI), Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Forest Survey of India (FSI), and Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy. These institutions are primarily involved in research, training and documentation activities. Other independent federal government institutions include the Indian Defense forces, Port Authority of India, Central Police organizations like the Border Security Force, the Indo Tibetan Border Police etc., Customs Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau, and investigation agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) etc. These agencies perform various roles in investigation and control of forest and wildlife offences.
State Government Institutions
State forest departments are headed by Principal Chief Conservators of Forests, officers of the Indian Forest Service. The Chief Wildlife Warden is the statutorily recognized authority, under the Wildlife Protection Act, who heads the Wildlife Wing of the department and exercises complete administrative control over protected areas within a state. Every protected area is typically classified as a Wildlife Division headed by the Deputy Conservator of Forests.
The Forest Department is charged with the tasks of protection and law enforcement within forest areas through the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of all forest and wildlife offences. Certain officers are also vested with quasi-judicial powers to deal with cases of encroachment, seizures of illegal wildlife produce, and specific forest offences.
In addition to the Forest Department, various other government departments that make up the broader administrative structure of the state government play significant roles in the administration of land within the Western Ghats. These include the Revenue Department, which controls public lands including thickly wooded areas and grasslands not statutorily designated as forests; the Police Department, whose responsibilities include maintenance of law and order which is critical to enforcing forest laws, addressing the illegal trade in forest and wildlife products; the Irrigation/Water Resources Department which plans and manages dams, reservoirs, barrages, and canals; and lastly, the Public Works Department which maintains all state highways and roads.
There are major conflicts of interest between central and state governments as forests represent a major source of non-tax revenue for the latter (World Bank 1993; Vira 1995). Thus, while recent forest policy has tended to emphasize environmental and social values, state governments are often faced with competing demands on forests from various, powerful interest groups, including the state treasury and forest-based industries. The main focus of the Forest Department, which is revenue generation through extraction of forest products, directly conflicts with conservation objectives. Furthermore, conservation management objectives of the department are not clearly formulated, projects are often poorly funded, equipped and staffed and ongoing efforts rarely monitored. Consequently, there are no significant efforts made towards acquisition of enclosures, resettlement programs, managing invasive species, reforestation of degraded lands and controlling felling in plantations. The lack of transparency and accountability, in combination with the lack of sufficient financial resources, are significant constraints to effective implementation of conservation. A radical restructuring of the forest sector through a clear separation of protective and productive functions is proposed under the National Forestry Action Programme (prepared with funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Other Democratic Institutions
Statutorily Constituted Bodies
Civil Society Institutions (NGOs)
Corporations, Businesses, and Cooperative Societies
All aspects of wildlife tourism within the Western Ghats were, until recently, controlled mostly by the Forest Department. Growing demand for higher standards has resulted in the establishment of several private tourism resorts around wildlife reserves. The forest departments control the entry of tourists by enforcing a system of permits, which tour operators have to follow. There is a clear shift towards private enterprise but this is restricted to high-end tourism.
Cooperative societies such as the Large Area Multi Purpose Societies, Forest Labour Cooperative Societies that act as agencies involved in extraction and marketing of timber products, and NTFPs from individuals/small groups of collectors, exist across the Western Ghats.
Corporate business interests in mining, timber products, and NTFPs have significant impacts on biodiversity conservation primarily due to procurement of mining permits, leases through bureaucratic and political patronage. The category includes public and private sector industries, plantation companies, and forest-based industries. The primary mandate of these industries is revenue maximization and thus directly conflicts with the conservation of biodiversity. There are no incentives for such organizations to adopt pro-conservation activities. Hence, such organizations are sympathetic to the conservation cause but not committed to specific issues and often lack conservation awareness. However, these institutions are able to successfully interface with traditional/local use in order to further commercial extraction with little emphasis on sustainability issues. Plantation companies have not adopted effective eco-friendly activities and continue to exploit resources without appropriate land-management practices. Forest cooperatives involved in minor forest product extraction are largely unregulated and weakly monitored resulting in extraction that is rarely sustainable.
Scientific Research Institutions
Legal Framework for Conservation in Western Ghats
Federal and State Legislation
Community reserves and conservation reserves are two new categories of protected areas that have been included under the WPA. These two categories provide a greater role for local communities, stakeholders and civil society as well as the opportunity to protect many areas of conservation value that cannot be designated under the strict categories wildlife sanctuaries or national parks.
The statute prohibits the destruction or diversion of wildlife and its habitat by any method unless it is for improvement or better management and this is decided by the state government in consultation the national and state boards for wildlife for parks and sanctuaries respectively. The WPA contains elaborate procedures for dealing with legal rights in proposed protected areas and acquisition of any land or interest under this law is deemed as an acquisition for a public purpose.
Apart from protected area establishment, other important aspects of the WPA include procedures for the appointment of state wildlife authorities and wildlife advisory boards, the regulation of trade in wildlife products and the prevention, detection and punishment of violations of the WPA. The procedure for all complaints filed under the WPA is governed by the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) which is a general procedure common to all criminal trials and which provides for investigation, inquiry and trial of cases by criminal courts of various designations.
The Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Forest Acts of States within the Western Ghats
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
This powerful legislation has to a large extent, curtailed the indiscriminate logging and release of forestland for non-forestry purposes by state governments. While the federal government imposed such strict restrictions, it did not simultaneously evolve a mechanism to compensate state governments for loss of timber logging revenues. This anomaly coupled with increasing pressure for land due to a burgeoning population has generated considerable resentment within state governments resulting in growing pressure to dilute the restrictive provisions of the Act. The Supreme Court of India has currently imposed a complete ban on the release of forestland for non-forestry activities without the prior approval of the federal government.
The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
National Policies and Plans
National Forest Policy 1988
The Tenth Plan (2002-2007) aims at a GDP growth rate of 8 percent over the period, with the agriculture and allied sectors contributing to 22 percent, trade 13 percent, and 16 percent from other services. The agriculture sector in the country employs more than 69 percent of the population. It is, accordingly, an important sector of the economy that has a direct bearing on the overall growth, income levels, and wellbeing of the people. Nationally, the annual growth rate of the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increased from 3.3 between 1975 and 2003 to 4.0 between 1990 and 2003 (UNDP 2005).
The economy of all the states has been experiencing major structural changes as would be expected in the structure of a developing country. There has been a shift from the primary sector to the secondary to the tertiary sectors. Figures for all 23 states taken together suggest major structural changes away from the predominantly agriculture-based economy that India has traditionally had. Employment trends are consistent with the structural trends in income.
Infrastructure and Regional Development
The proportion of households with electricity in 2001 was as high as 93.6 percent in Goa, 78.5 percent in Karnataka, 78.20 percent in TamilNadu, 77.5 percent in Maharashtra, and 70.20 percent in Kerala.
On a national level, households with sustainable access to an improved water source increased from 68 percent in 1990 to 86 percent in 2002 (UNDP 2005). The proportion of households with a drinking water source within the premises in 2001 varies from 71.6 percent in Kerala to 27.1 percent in TamilNadu (Census of India 2001). The Tenth Plan is declared as the water plan for focused attention on the integrated development of water resources in the country.
The proportion of households living in permanent structures in 2001 ranged from 69.9 percent in Goa to 54.9 percent in Karnataka (Census of India 2001).
The 1990s witnessed a phenomenal growth in the telecommunications sector. On a national level, the number of people per 1,000 who had telephone mainlines increased from 6 in 1990 to 46 in 2003 (UNDP 2005). The proportion of households with a telephone in 2001 ranged from 11.2 percent in Tamil Nadu to 29.10 percent in Goa.
The states of the Western Ghats have a reasonably satisfactory road network. The availability of roads (road length per thousand square kilometers) is above the national average for the five States - ranging from 3,749 in Kerala to 751 in Karnataka). The infrastructure facility in the protected areas is reasonably good.
Demography and Social Trends
The high rate of economic growth in India has been accompanied by a reduction in poverty. There has been appreciable decline in the percent of population below the poverty line from over 50 percent in the 1970s to less than 30 percent in the late 1990s. The percentage of Indian population below the poverty line in 2002 was 28.1 percent (UNDP 2005). All five states within the Western Ghats had values in 2000/2001 that were below the national average with as low as 4.4 percent for Goa and as high as 25.02 percent for Maharashtra. Noteworthy is the case of Kerala, which, from an initial position amongst the high poverty ratio states, has recorded a steep decline to be amongst the states with very low percentage of population below the poverty line. Significant declines in rural poverty as a whole have been recorded in the period from 1973/74 to 1999/2000 by the faster growing states of TamilNadu, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
India has shown substantial improvement in the fields of education and health. According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2005, India has been moving up steadily in the international comparative ranking of human development.
Results from the 2001 Census (the most recent available) show the highest jump in literacy rate from 52.21 percent in 1991 to 64.8 percent in 2001. In 2001, Kerala had the highest literacy rate of 90.02 in the country and among the Western Ghats, it is followed closely by Goa at 82.32. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra also have literacy rates higher than the national average. In India, the male literacy rate is 75.3 and the female literacy rate is 53.7 . Higher female literacy is also associated with lower fertility levels. In Kerala, 94 percent of the total rural population was served by primary schools in a 1993 survey. Kerala is widely acknowledged as a success story of human development. The priorities that have guided public policy in the state have led to expansion in social opportunities and a high level of human development in relation to the rest of the country.
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