Lost in the Woods: India’s Biodiversity

“Biodiversity can’t be maintained by protecting a few species in a zoo, or by preserving green belts or national parks. To function properly, nature needs more room than that. It can maintain itself, however, without human expense, without zoo keepers, park rangers, foresters or gene banks. All it needs is to be left alone.” » Donella Meadows

Biological Diversity Act 2002, calls for protection and management of biodiversity through the setting up of Biodiversity Management Committees(BMC) for managing biodiversity and managing People’s biodiversity registers(PBR) to document biodiversity in each district.The Act provides for both centralised as well as decentralised institutional mechanisms for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It has National Biodiversity Authority at the apex level and BMC’s at the local level, with an intermediate state biodiversity board.

The problem is acute at the level of BMC’s. The BMC have been given diverse responsibilities which includes conservation, promoting sustainable use and chronicling of knowledge related to biodiversity.BMC are mandated to prepare PBR’s which are comprehensive records of biodiversity that occur under the jurisdiction of BMC.The issue acquires importance as India is facing massive biodiversity loss: 333 acres of forest which is under provisions of Forest Conservation Act 1980 is illegally diverted every year.This does not include forests illegally felled or enchroched.Supreme court has called for ‘Species best interest standard’, But one Rhino was killed every two weeks in Kaziranga National Park. About 30 or less genetically pure Wild Buffaloes exist in central India.The number of Great Indian bustards stand at the precarious 150 birds.Construction plan for Amravati, the new capital of Andra Pradesh includes 13000 hectares or 130 sq.km of forest.The himalayas are today the world’s mountain ranges with most dams.

India is in the midst of a unacknowledgebale biodiversity crisis.Therefore it is ironic that the act is the most neglected of India’s environment laws and one of the least implemented.there is very limited judicial pronouncement and interpretation, action by civil society is virtually absent.This despite the fact that the at has immense potential to safeguard India’s threatened biodiversity.Constantly seen fraudulent,Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.It undermines the ecological value of the areas that are proposed to be damned, mined or diverted.Examples-Monpa community of Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh had to struggle for 3 years to National Green Tribunal(NGT) that had riverine area proposed for construction of dam is one of the two wintering sites of the Blacked-necked Crane, it is a protected specie held sacred by the Buddhist.The tribals in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh are struggling to protect the last remaining Chilgoza(pine nut) trees from being lost to a series of hydro-power projects.Forest deparatments reports do not mention the significant role of trees in providing livelihood security to people.The Lakhwar-Vyasi hydro-electric project in Uttarakhand is almost the size of Tehri project which means that an EIA should be conducted, but it has been exempted because of ingenious and questionable interpretation of law which states that project was proposed in 1987 before EIA act of 2006.Therefore most-hydel projects are 24.99 Megawatts giving the limit set by EIA at 25 Megawatts! The same holds true for mining and other projects

PBR could be an effective tool to counter false and misleading statements given in forest diversion proposals and EIA reports.They could help a community present the facts before the decision maker in order to highlight the real value of the ecological entity proposed to be sacrificed.They could save area from being value based on rapid assessment done by institutions of questionable integrity or methodology whose goals are only to take the projects through.India’s famed ‘Green Judge’, Justice Kuldip Singh had observed in ICELA vs Union of India(1996) case that “enacting of a law but tolerating its infringement is worse than not enacting a law at all”

In face of an unimplemented act and general apathy, India’s biodiversity is too precious to be lost. Contrary to the general viewpoint, we should not protect our biodiversity for present and future generations.This is an Anthropocentric approach.We should protect biodiversity purely because we have no moral,legal and ethical right to destroy something not created by us.

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