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Ecosystem Profile: Western Ghats & Sri Lanka
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.
Conservation in the Western Ghats occurs within a highly diverse and complex institutional landscape. Civil society institutions comprise one among several types of institutions that influence conservation in the region. The most powerful institutions that control land use through land ownership include the State Forest Departments and associated development corporations, Government institutions such as the Public Works, Electricity, Irrigation and Revenue departments, private plantation (tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom) companies, and individual landowners controlling the use of large tracts of land including forests within the Western Ghats. Creative engagement of these institutions is critical to achieve effective conservation across the hotspot.
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.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), based in New Delhi, is the authority vested with the task of formulating legislation, policy and other statutory functions under various environmental, forest and wildlife laws. A Directorate of Wildlife Preservation in the MoEF oversees all matters concerning wildlife. While the Federal Government has the mandate to legislate and evolve policy guidelines, the State Governments, which have exclusive administrative control over the forest area within the Western Ghats, bear the responsibility of implementation. In general, the MoEF has limited direct power over state governments, except notably through the Forest Conservation Act (see below).
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 governments exercise complete administrative control over all statutorily recognized forests and other government-owned lands in the Western Ghats. The state government’s power to constitute reserved forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is absolute but it has to seek prior approval of the Union Government for de-reservation, diversion, logging, or leasing of forests for non-forestry activities. The Forest Minister of the State is in charge of all matters concerning forests and wildlife and is assisted by a Principal Secretary along with a full-fledged forest secretariat which is in charge of all statutory and policy matters. The State Forest Department is vested with the task of administration and management of forests, including protected areas.
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).
Panchayati Raj institutions, comprising the Gram Panchayats at village level, the Taluk Panchayats at Taluk level, and the Zilla Panchayats at the district level, form a three-tier system of decentralized, democratic local self-governance. State legislatures can legislate and devolve certain powers to the Panchayats under the Panchyat Raj Act on matters concerning agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, rural housing, electrification, roads and water management, social welfare etc.
Several statutory bodies have been constituted at the federal and state levels with varying mandates to enforce, advise, and monitor a wide range of issues concerning forests, wildlife and environment. Some of the key bodies include the following:
- The National Board for Wildlife constituted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 2002 (formerly the Indian Board for Wildlife) advises the federal and state governments in matters concerning wildlife conservation policy, illegal trade and poaching, management of national parks and sanctuaries, impact assessments of projects on wildlife, and other related issues.
- State Boards for Wildlife at the state level similarly advise the state governments in selection and management of protected areas and other matters connected with the protection of wildlife.
- The Biodiversity Act, 2002 mandates the constitution of a National Biodiversity Authority which, among other responsibilities, advises the Union and state governments on matters relating to biodiversity conservation, equitable sharing of benefits arising out of biological resource utilization; regulating access to biodiversity and initiating measures to oppose the granting of Intellectual Property Rights on any biological resource obtained from India.
- Central and State Pollution Control Boards have been constituted under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 with wide-ranging powers to regulate any person from setting up industries in ecologically sensitive areas and to inspect and prosecute individuals or industries who violate specified pollution control norms.
- The Central Empowered Committee constituted under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 for a period of five years starting September 2002, monitors and ensures compliance of the orders of the Supreme Court in the major public interest litigation (Writ Petition (Civil) 202/1995 - Godavarman Tirumalpad v/s Union of India & others) concerning protection of forests, wildlife, and related issues.
There are numerous civil society organizations active in conservation and development projects in the Western Ghats. Institutions falling into this category include those involved in research, conservation, education, and activism and those whose activities directly influence protected areas. Overall, there is tremendous variation in the intensity of NGO involvement in protected area issues with some regions better represented than others. Although NGOs play a major role in advocacy, activism, education, and rural development, they are rarely involved in monitoring implementation of conservation management activities within protected areas. Analysis of shortcomings of such institutions reveals poor networking and coordination, with social and conservation NGOs often working at cross purposes with each other. Moreover, many NGOs appear to be opportunistic, lacking clear strategies or long-term commitment and tending to be driven by international donor priorities rather than by local needs for intervention. NGOs are also limited by financial constraints, have poor institutional linkages, and find their effectiveness hindered by the lack of support and cooperation from the forest departments. Lack of transparency and high levels of bureaucracy within NGOs frequently undermine their credibility and consequently their effectiveness in achieving conservation goals. Many NGOs are run by volunteers who lack the necessary time, financial resources, and technical capacity to effectively achieve organizational goals. Many NGOs lack clear institutional focus and opportunistically attempt to address issues of biodiversity conservation while pursuing social welfare goals that negatively affect biodiversity. Furthermore, a large number of NGOs believe that government policies need to be opposed, thus foreclosing options of potential public-private partnerships.
Forest Development Corporations, independent of state forest departments but staffed by forest department officials exist in most states in the Western Ghats. A portion of the sales from logging operations and sales of certain forest products are channeled through Forest Development Corporations. In certain states, the Forest Development Corporations also control public lands that are developed as plantations to meet the demands for commercial timber. In the State of Kerala, although tree felling in protected areas is illegal, the Forest Development Corporation, a government institution, still converts forestland to plantations.
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.
Institutions such as the National Institute of Oceanography, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, WII, French Institute in Pondicherry, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), BNHS, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Salim Ali School of Ecology, Mangalore University, Mysore University, UAS, etc. are involved in scientific research and training activities in the Western Ghats.
The media in India is independent and not fettered by governmental controls. The Prasar Bharathi is the only federal government-owned media corporation, which has separate television broadcasting services: the Doordarshan and All India Radio. Coverage of English media is restricted geographically to large cities and towns with very limited circulation that is largely insignificant in the rural areas. The vernacular media is active in both urban and rural areas. Both the English and the vernacular media consider forest and biodiversity conservation to be important issues.
The government of India introduced various types of legislation in response to growing destruction of wildlife and forests by anthropogenic pressures. Conservation policies in post-independent India are rooted in the forest management legislation enacted by the British colonial administration.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972 as amended by WPA, 2002.
The WPA is an important statute that provides a powerful legal framework for protection of wildlife, establishment of protected areas, management of habitats, regulation and control of hunting and trade in parts and products derived from wildlife. The WPA provides for four categories of protected areas: National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves, and Community Reserves. National parks are by law more strictly protected, allowing virtually no human activity except that which is in the interest of wildlife conservation. Grazing, private tenurial rights are disallowed in parks but can be allowed in wildlife sanctuaries at the discretion of the Chief Wildlife Warden. The amended WPA does not allow for any commercial exploitation of forest produce in both national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and local communities can collect forest produce only for their bona fide needs. No wild mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, fish, crustacean, insects, or coelentrates listed in four schedules of the WPA can be hunted either within or outside protected areas. On conviction, the penalty for hunting is imprisonment for a period ranging from a minimum of three to a maximum of seven years with fines not less than 10,000 rupees.
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 main objective of the Indian Forest Act (1927) was to secure exclusive state control over forests to secure the demand for timber. Most of these untitled lands had traditionally belonged to the forest dwelling communities. The Act defined state ownership, regulated its use, and appropriated the power to substitute or extinguish customary rights. The Act facilitates three categories of forests, namely “reserved forests,” “village forests,” and “protected forests.” Reserved forests are the most protected within these categories. No rights can be acquired in reserved forests except by succession or under a grant or contract with the government. Felling trees, grazing cattle, removing forest products, quarrying, fishing, and hunting are punishable with a fine or imprisonment. Although the Indian Forest Act is a federal act, many states have enacted similar forest acts but with some modifications.
The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
In order to check rapid deforestation due to forestlands being released by state governments for agriculture, industry and other development projects (allowed under the Indian Forest Act) the federal government enacted the Forest Conservation Act in 1980 with an amendment in 1988. The Act made the prior approval of the federal government necessary for de-reservation of reserved forests, logging and for use of forestland for non-forest purposes.
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 Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is an important legislation that provides for coordination of activities of the various regulatory agencies, creation of authorities with adequate powers for environmental protection, regulation of the discharge of environmental pollutants, handling of hazardous substances, etc. The Act provided an opportunity to extend legal protection to non-forest habitats such as wetlands and coastal zones.
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002
India is a party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The provisions of the Biological Diversity Act are in addition to and not in derogation of the provisions in any other law relating to forests or wildlife.
National Wildlife Action Plan 2002-2016. The Action Plan replaces the earlier Plan adopted in 1983 and was introduced in response to the need for a change in priorities given increased commercial use of natural resources, continued growth of human and livestock populations, and changes in consumption patterns. The Plan most closely represents an actual policy on protection of wildlife. It focuses on strengthening and enhancing the protected area network, on the conservation of Endangered wildlife and their habitats, on controlling trade in wildlife products and on research, education, and training. The Plan endorses two new protected area categories: “conservation reserves,” referring to corridors connecting protected areas, and “community reserves,” which will allow greater participation of local communities in protected area management through traditional or cultural conservation practices. These new categories of protected areas are likely to bring in corridor areas under protection. The Plan contains various recommendations to address the needs of local communities living outside protected areas and outlines the need for voluntary relocation and rehabilitation of villages within protected areas. The Plan recognizes the need to reduce human-wildlife conflict and emphasizes the establishment of effective compensation mechanisms. It includes the restoration of degraded habitats outside protected areas as a key objective.
National Forest Policy 1988
The National Forest Policy, 1988 (NFP) is primarily concerned with the sustainable use and conservation of forests and further strengthens the Forest Conservation Act (1980). It marked a significant departure from earlier forest policies, which gave primacy to meeting government interests and industrial requirements for forest products at the expense of local subsistence requirements (Khare et al. 2000). The NFP prioritizes the maintenance of ecological balance through the conservation of biological diversity, soil and water management, increase of tree cover, efficient use of forest produce, substitution of wood, and ensuring peoples’ involvement in achieving these objectives. It also includes meeting the natural resource requirements of rural communities as a major objective. The NFP legitimizes the customary rights and concessions of communities living in and around forests, stating that the domestic requirements of the rural poor should take precedence over industrial and commercial demands for forest products (GOI 1988).
The Planning Commission in India is responsible for making an assessment of all resources of the country, augmenting deficient resources, and formulating plans for the most effective and balanced utilization of resources and determining priorities. For the first eight plans the emphasis was on a growing public sector with massive investments in basic and heavy industries, but since the launch of the Ninth Plan in 1997, the emphasis on the public sector has become less pronounced and the current thinking on planning in the country, in general, is that it should increasingly be of an indicative nature.
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.
The infrastructure in the states of the Western Ghats is reasonably well developed. The infrastructure index brings out a composite comparative profile of the availability of the physical, social, and institutional infrastructures in all the Indian states for 1999. Goa was ranked the best. The states of Western Ghats were among the top 10 for the infrastructure index.
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.
India is the second largest country in the world, after China, to cross the billion mark in population. The population of India has more than tripled since 1941. The annual average growth in population declined to 1.9 percent in 2003 (UNDP 2005). States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa have registered a substantial decline in the growth rate in the decade 1991/2001 lower than the national average. The lowest rate was that of Kerala at 0.90 percent, followed by Tamil Nadu at 1.06 percent.
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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