27th August – A bottom-up approach to conservation

In 2018, many people thought that the floods and landslides in Kerala that caused huge financial losses and manifold human tragedies marked a once-in-a-century calamity and that normalcy will return soon and we can merrily return to business as usual. In 2019, a repeat of the shocking train of intense floods, landslides, financial losses, and manifold human tragedies has not just left the same set of people stunned but also made them realize that it is unwise to continue business as usual and that we must think afresh of the options before us.

A bottom-up approach to conservation

The WGEEP model

  • The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) called for a model of conservation and development compatible with each other; it sought a replacement of the prevailing ‘Develop Recklessly, Conserve Thoughtlessly’ pattern with one of ‘Develop Sustainably, Conserve Thoughtfully.’
  • This fine-tuning of development practices to the local context would have required the full involvement of local communities. It would have therefore been entirely inappropriate to depend exclusively on government agencies for deciding on and managing Ecologically Sensitive Zones.

Preserving the ‘sensitive zones’

  • In line with the National Forest Policy, WGEEP decided to assign 60% of the total area of Western Ghats in Kerala, including the region housing wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, as a zone of highest ecological sensitivity, ‘ESZ1’.
  • It proposed ‘elevation’ and ‘slope’ as two indicators of sensitivity. In Kerala, rainfall increases rapidly with elevation, and high rainfall and steep slopes render localities vulnerable to landslides. Hence, areas prone to landslides would come under ESZ1.
  • The extent and quality of natural vegetation was the third indicator for classifying an area as ESZ1. Landslides are under check-in areas with intact natural vegetation because the roots bind the soil. Any disturbance to such vegetation would render any locality that has steep slopes and experiences high rainfall susceptible to landslides. Such disturbances may include quarrying or mining, replacement of natural vegetation by new plantations, leveling of the land using heavy machinery, and construction of houses and roads. Therefore, it was recommended that such activities be avoided in ESZ1 areas.
  • It is important to build upon India’s greatest strength, its deep-rooted democracy. Democracy is not merely voting once in five years; it is the active involvement of us citizens in governing the country at all levels, most importantly at the local level. We must take full advantage of powers and responsibilities conferred on citizens under provisions such as the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.

Conclusion –

We should assert that conservation prescriptions should not be merely regulatory, but include positive incentives such as conservation service charges. We must hand over economic activities like quarrying to agencies like the Kudumbashree groups that are accountable to local communities. We, the sovereign people, are the real rulers of India and must engage ourselves more actively in the governance of the country and lead it on to a path of people-friendly and nature-friendly development.

SourceThe Hindu

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