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Mushrooming Community Reserves in North-East and the ‘concern’

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    7th Oct, 2022

Context

The increasing growth of ‘community reserves’ in the north-east poses various challenges to the local residents (lack of livelihood options), as the land goes from being governed by local village councils to coming under the forest department.

Background

  • 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 Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change(MoEFCC) defines conservation reserves and community reserves as “protected areas of India which typically act as buffer zones to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests of India.”
  • 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 socio-economic conditions of the people who live in such areas while also conserving wildlife.

Why declaring community reserve is a matter of concern in Northeast?

  • 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 zonesbetween 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 patternwithin the Community Reserve unless authorized by a resolution passed by the Management Committee and approved by the State Government.

Dilemma with Legal provisions for ‘Forest lands’:

Due to the lack of clarity with declaration of area as a community reserves, the following dilemmas can be seen:

  • CFR under FRA: The Act allows for a greater role and empowerment of Gram sabhas3 in determining claims, managing forests that they have conserving traditionally, checking processes destructive of forest dwellers’ habitats and protecting traditional knowledge.
  • It also allows for greater livelihood security for traditional forest dwellers that have been unjustly denied tenure, and mandates that the consent of the community is necessary for any displacement and relocation.
  • However, this Act has an unclear relationship with existing forest and wildlife laws. The institutional arrangements for enforcement of the forest management and conservation provisions of the Act are also not very clear especially in relation to the areas where the forest department has existing jurisdiction.

Benefits of Community reserves

  • It conserves the species and its habitat
  • Useful in conserving large populations of a species
  • It is a less disruptive method of conservation
  • It is a cost-efficient conservation method

Challenges associated

  • Occurrence in marginal habitats
  • General distribution pattern (widespread, dis junct populations, narrow localised species, meta populations) –which will affect the genetic architecture and the amount of variation
  • Lack of regular survey in in-situ conservation
  • Only Priority species are focused

Way forward

  • Promoting Eco Restoration: Afforestation and reforestation of degraded forest, regeneration of lost habitats, reducing climate change impacts by promoting carbon footprints and through education, is needed.
  • Need of Awareness: Conservation techniques, awareness about overexploitation of resources and its adverse impacts should be propagated among masses.
  • Collaboration on Different Levels: Government, civil societies and stakeholders are largely required to collaborate with each other to balance sustainable development with development.

 

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