RESET spoke with Praveen Pardeshi, Principal Secretary of the Revenue and Forests Department in Maharashtra about the importance of biodiversity, how wildlife conservation is being tackled and what measures the government is taking to preserve that which is integral to Indian identity.
Within half a year of assuming the position of Principal Secretary (Forests), Pardeshi received the Sanctuary Wildlife Award ‘Wind Under the Wings’ in 2011 for reinvigorating and consolidating wildlife conservation in Maharashtra, and making the preservation of biodiversity a win-win situation for animals and people alike. The annual Sanctuary Awards acknowledge dedication to wildlife conservation and education.
He is the kind of government official that walks the walk instead of merely talking the talk. He has always been an avid wildlife enthusiast, and aims to take a green lens to all that he does. RESET spoke with Praveen Pardeshi about the evolution of wildlife conservation in India, and how it is at the backbone of what makes India, India. Here’s what we learned:
Why do you think wildlife conservation is such an important issue? How does it affect the lives of Indians?
Wildlife, biodiversity, in a way defines the very essence of being an Indian: over the millennia, the Indian subcontinent has been at the receiving end of migrations from Africa, Central Asia and Indo-European Caucasoid: so the very anthropogenic composition of who is an Indian has changed dramatically. But if we understand India as the Land Of the Tigers, then over the last million years the biodiversity of the Indian sub-continent has remained the same: so while everything human has been changing, wildlife has remained the same as the constant mooring of identifying the landscape as India. [In this landscape] Tigers and Cheetal deer live in deciduous forests, and the wolf and Cheetah hunt the blackbuck and in the open grasslands of arid zones. The extinction of Cheetah from arid planes of India has led to the increase in blackbuck populations beyond the carrying capacity, thus blackbucks raid the fields of farmers, leading to conflicts.
We say in India that saving the tiger is not even a relevant issue: it is about leveraging the charisma of a mega-predator the tiger, to mobilize public opinion and government action to save the wilderness in which the grasses and trees are diverse to trap the rain in numerous wetlands, so that the deer and wild pig can breed in profusion, so that 1 tiger per 500 herbivore can survey his kingdom, and successfully raise their next generation. Preserved tiger forests represent a balanced ecosystem, and provide source waters of rivers of all Indian rivers.
Wildlife conservation also has immediate practical values: biodiversity for medical resources of ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda; tiger-tourism is more than half billion dollar industry in India; ecosystem dependent people, tribal forest dwellers need fodder, fuel wood, minor forest produce like bamboo, fruits from forest which are well conserved.
How do you think attitudes towards wildlife conservation have changed over the years, do you think awareness has improved?
Yes, younger Indians are more aware and committed to conserving India's wildlife heritage. Campaigns run by civil society, [as well as] international movements led by IUCN [and] WWF, have increased commitment [at the] political level, as leaders have seen ownership for wildlife conservation by youth.
In your view, what are some of the most effective projects / campaigns aimed at wildlife conservation in India? Are there specific approaches or strategies that have been in your experience successful?
Awareness campaigns in schools, inclusion of wildlife conservation in school syllabus, legislation to enforce Wildlife Protection Act, budgetary provision for enforcement of wildlife protection, for rehabilitation of villages from wildlife sanctuaries, notification of wildlife rich areas as wildlife sanctuaries, judicial activism through orders on 'not a blade of grass to be removed from wildlife sanctuaries' and judicial pronouncements on protecting areas around wildlife sanctuaries as eco-sensitive zones have been effective to promoting wildlife conservation.
A combination of approaches is needed which includes press sensitivity (pro wildlife journalist), a network of NGO's committed to promoting wildlife conservation, a mix of government policy and legislation, which allows for wildlife protection through law which prohibits hunting to all wildlife and destruction of wildlife habitat, and recent innovative approaches where income from wildlife parks is shared with local people and where tourism is managed by local village committees, as is done in Tadoba reserve. [There] tiger viewing trails are managed by villagers of Junona and Agarzari, and they also collect fees.
What role do you think technology plays in wildlife conservation?
Digital trap cameras have replaced the crude methods of censuring tigers by identifying pugmarks. GIS and GPoS devises have replaced physical crude maps with multilayered wildlife habitat mapping and management plans based on multiple layers of geographic and biological spatial information, and radio collaring has enhanced the long-term study of individual species life cycles and migrations. [Furthermore] DNA analysis, and finger printing is enabling the detection of wildlife crimes, by linking poachers to specific locations and specific wildlife poaching in geographic locations.
After reading about your work in Sanctuary, it is clear you are someone who is actively concerned with wildlife conservation and environmental issues on a community level in addition to the your governmental role. How do you think a balance can best be struck between government action and community engagement when addressing issues like wildlife conservation? And why do you think it is so important?
The strategy and paradigm of wildlife conservation has undergone a sea change: previously we thought of forests as exclusive wildlife sanctuaries, keeping people out through police powers and forest guards, and applying wildlife crime prevention laws as the main strategy of protecting wildlife. However, through improved democratic rights, we have realized that one cannot enforce wildlife conservation against the wishes of local people. Hence conservation through community participation must be, and increasingly is being, practiced.
In Tadoba, the half a million dollars raised from visitor fees are granted to villagers in the buffer [areas] of the park. Furthermore all buffer villages have eco-development committees elected by the village, which make plans for the ecologically sound development of their micro-environment. [Additionally] the government subsidies have shifted wood as the main cooking fuel to biogas. [It] also provides training and licenses to youth to become wildlife tour guides, [as well as] help villagers set up homestay facilities for visitors so that local people have a stake in wildlife conservation successes.
Author: Kirsten Zeller/ RESET editorial