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Community reserves: Are they the forest department’s backdoor entry into North East India

  • Published
    1st Oct, 2022
Context

The Village council members in the northeastern India are signing the MoUs with the forest department but due to illiteracy, they may not understand what they are getting into.

Details:

  • India’s North East has seen a mushrooming of ‘community reserves’ in the last 11 years.
  • A community reserve is usually formed by the local village council and the forest department signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU).
  • Provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act apply to an area once it becomes a community reserve.

What are Community Reserves?

  • The State Government may designate any community land or private land as a Community Reserve if the members of that community or individuals involved agree to offer such areas for the protection of fauna and flora, as well as their traditions, cultures, and practices.
  • The designation of such an area aims to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the people who live in such areas while also conserving wildlife.

Issues associated:

  • The village council members who agree to sign the MoU are mostly illiterate and do not understand the finer details.
  • Most of the community members are not aware of this policy in its entirety.
  • Communities were unaware that provisions of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act become functional in an area once it became a community reserve.
  • After a forest has been made into a community reserve, people cannot hunt there, nor can they use it for agricultural practices, or engage in jhum cultivation.
  • It is also unclear whether traditional owners of community forests qualify for compensation in such a case as they do not necessarily have the claim papers.

Provisions related to Conservation

  • Community reserves fall under protected areas, along with marine protected areas, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and conservation reserves, according to the Wild Life (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972.
  • Conservation reserves and community reserves are protected areas of India that typically act as buffer zones between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved and protected forests of India, according to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change (MoEFCC).
  • A Community Reserve Management Committee oversees the Reserve.
  • Where a community or an individual has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat, the State Government may declare the area as community land by notification.
  • There shall be no change in land use pattern within the Community Reserve unless authorized by a resolution passed by the Management Committee and approved by the State Government.

Examples of Community Conserved Areas in India

  • Gond tribals in Mendha (Lekha) village, Maharashtra, have been protecting 1800ha of reserved and protected forest for more than two decades. This is an offshoot of the struggle for tribal self-government.
  • The villagers of Jardhargaon village in Uttaranchal have been responsible for the regeneration and protection of 600-700ha of Reserved Forests and grasslands.
  • Protection of sea turtle eggs, hatchlings, and nesting sites by the Kolavipalam fisherfolk community in Kerala.
  • Villagers in Kokkare Bellur village, Karnataka, have traditionally conserved Painted Stork and Spot-billed Pelican nesting sites.
  • Ronmei tribe in Tokpa Kabui village, Manipur, have regenerated 600ha of village forest in the Loktak Lake catchment. The hunting ban on the endangered Sangai deer (Brow antlered deer) in this area is self-imposed.
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