The Wildlife Council authorized development projects on 1,792 hectares of protected areas in 2020: study
The National Wildlife Council, the supreme governing body of protected lands, cleared wildlife lands for 48 development activities last year. These include land intended for sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves – a total of approximately 1,792 hectares, the size of 3,349 football fields.
The Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), a Delhi-based NGO, analyzed environmental clearances from the Standing Committee on the NBWL (SC-NBWL) during the pandemic, according to a Times of India report. Of the 82 proposals reviewed, 25 concerned land use in sanctuaries and national parks.
The parcelling out of the land was such: 1,040 hectares of land belonged to environmentally sensitive areas; 158 hectares were part of national parks, sanctuaries and conservation reserves; and 594 hectares of tiger reserves. This land was used for linear projects, defense and infrastructure activities.
“Linear projects” refer to construction activities such as the construction of roads, transmission lines, railways, pipelines that are “linear” in nature. These land-disturbing activities are seen as particularly destructive because “they fragment the entire landscape and interrupt animal movements,” LIFE said in its analysis. In other words, they reduce habitat for wildlife and also alter the ability of the ecosystem to maintain biodiversity.
A critical finding of the report concerned the mechanism for authorizing these projects. Project authorization is usually given after carrying out site visits in protected areas, which is crucial to assess ecological constitution in order to support development activities. The 48 projects that were cleaned up during the pandemic came at a time when ground visits were severely restricted.
Overall, the Standing Committee of the NWBL, led by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, has rejected only one project in the past three years. Some projects were approved without indicating the specific area designated for construction, indicating laxity on the part of the government to protect environmentally sensitive lands.
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“While India remained at home during the lockdown, these protected areas were either slowly unlocked or prepared to be unlocked for human activities and development projects,” Mongaybay noted in a report last year. “A safe haven for biodiversity and wildlife, India’s protected areas are losing out to the Ministry of Environment’s wave of mine clearance where coal mining, road construction and more projects are approved in these environmentally sensitive areas ”.
One of these projects was located in Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park in Goa. SC-NBWL has cleared three projects in the protected corridor, sparking protests last year. Campaigners expressed concern that the lack of impact assessment reports on these linear projects, such as the laying of power lines, would threaten several species in the eco-sensitive ecosystem and the integrity global ecological. “Birds can also be found here nesting in tree cavities such as hornbills such as the great hornbill which is classified as vulnerable and the Malabar hornbill which is classified as near threatened. In addition, there are 18 bird species endemic to the Western Ghats and seven bird species of very high conservation concern (according to the State of the Birds of India, 2020), ”a letter from activists and officials said. ‘environmentalists.
Projects in other areas such as the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary, Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam and Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand have also sparked protests. Dehing Patkai in Assam is home to rare and endangered species that have also been cleared for charcoal mining.
“The laying of the transmission line would require the cutting of large hundred-year-old trees along its route. These forests, which have existed for thousands of years, are irreplaceable. The direct loss of biodiversity and the large-scale impacts of habitat fragmentation will reduce ecosystem stability and decrease the resilience of forests, ”notes the letter.
Recently, the government announced the publication of guidelines for “ecotourism”, in which a list of protected areas will be used for “low impact nature tourism”. Activists are wary of such a policy, arguing that the impact on land will always be severe. “An ecotourism policy should not create the justification for fragmenting ecologically sensitive habitats and extinguishing existing use rights,” Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher at the Center for Policy Research, told Hindustan Times.
In particular, protected areas are essential to prevent forest loss. The loss of small proportions – which otherwise support biodiversity – would be difficult to compensate for. “At around 4.9% of India’s geographic extent, its protected areas – including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries – are seriously below the Aichi biodiversity target globally anyway. recognized by 17%, ”The Times of India wrote in an op-ed. The Aichi Targets are biodiversity protection targets that include 20 conservation tips.
“The Covid19 pandemic has opened people’s eyes to human-induced threats to nature and how these threats relate to pandemics. Social media has helped to mobilize the protests and a large part of the population is aware of the extent of nature degradation and the consequences of opening up wildlife habitats to human activities, ”Udayan Borthakur told Mongabayan, a militant.
It is reductive to present this as a “conservation versus development” debate – the binary poses conservation efforts as mutually exclusive to societal development and growth needs. The focus of the idea remains on how we can protect our natural habitats and integrate them into plans for the future.