What the controversy over BBC documentary on Kaziranga reminds us about models of conservation

The BBC documentary on Kaziranga National Park in Assam, Killing for Conservation, has generated a lot of debate as well as courted controversy. At the centre of the controversy, is the “shoot at sight” powers, as well as perceived legal immunity provided to forest guards from prosecution.

Many conservationists have attributed Kaziranga’s conservation success to this “guns and guard” approach, while others have claimed that such extraordinary powers have led to the “encounter” killing of suspected poachers and even innocent people.

Given this background, it is imperative to examine the legal reality as well as the challenges in protecting the wildlife of Kaziranga.

Blanket immunity?

The belief that forest guards in Kaziranga National Park have orders from the government, empowering them to “shoot at sight” any suspected poacher in the park and enjoy complete legal immunity from criminal prosecution is simply illusory.

No shoot at sight order has been issued by the government. This belief has gained currency since nobody has bothered to find out the facts. If such an order existed, it should be possible to find a copy of it somewhere.

So far as legal immunity from criminal prosecution is concerned, the forest guards and for that matter all forest officers in Assam, have the protection of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as a result of a Notification issued in 2010 by the State government. This provision states that no criminal prosecution can be initiated against any public servant for acts done in “discharge of his official duty” without prior sanction of the State government. The Notification does not provide for complete immunity but only “initial” immunity from prosecution.

The Notification clearly and unambiguously states:

“whenever firing is resorted to by any of the personnel (forest staff), each such incident shall be enquired into by Executive Magistrate of the locality and any proceeding including institution of a criminal case of any nature or effecting any arrest can be initiated by the police, only if, it is held, as a result of Magisterial Enquiry that the use of firearm has been unnecessary, unwarranted and excessive and such report has been examined and accepted by the Government”.

This provision nowhere provides any “blanket immunity”. Nor does it even by implication confer absolute power to forest department staff to shoot at sight. What is, however, significant to note is that as per the Notification, every case of firing has to be enquired by the Executive Magistrate, irrespective of whether death or injury takes place as a result of the firing.

The real face of enforcement

Kaziranga has been hailed as a conservation success in view of the increase in number of rhinoceros – from a mere handful to more than 2,400, as much as two-thirds of the entire world’s rhino population. It has been argued by some that other conservation parks should follow the Kaziranga model of conservation comprising of heavily armed and trained forest guards.

The reality is however different: Kaziranga National Park is among the most poorly managed and administered conservation parks in the country. It is a story of neglect and apathy. Nothing illustrates this better than the Performance Audit of the park done by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in 2014. The section of the CAG Report dealing with forest guards in Kaziranga is revealing. It states:

‘’Out of the 100 freshly recruited forest guard ... 73 were withdrawn within one year resulting in the deployment of aged staff on frontline duties’...reasons for transferring the fresh recruits out of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) despite increase in poaching cases/ arrests of poachers were not on record”.

With respect to the working condition of the forest guards, the report states:

“allotment of uniform, shoes, rain coats etc is irregular, forcing the wildlife guards to arrange these articles from their own sources......some wildlife guards reported borrowing used uniforms of their siblings serving in other forces’’.

The CAG report highlighted severe shortage of funds and highly inadequate anti-poaching infrastructure in Kaziranga. The situation on the ground remains the same despite the indictment by the CAG

Militancy and poaching

It is claimed that killings by forest department staff have increased after 2010 as a result of the so-called immunity conferred on the forest department staff. Statistically, it is true that more people were killed after 2010 as compared to previous years. However, to conclude that this can be attributed to the so-called immunity given to forest guards is too simplistic a formulation.

An analysis of poaching incidents based on right to information responses from the state government shows a dramatic increase in poaching post 2010 in and around the Kaziranga National Park. Almost one rhino was killed every two weeks in 2015.

If more poachers enter the park, it is more likely that there will be more confrontation with the enforcement staff.

The increase in incidents of poaching can be attributed to many factors, including increased international demand and laxity in enforcement. However, in case of Kaziranga National Park, one cannot overlook the close link between the sudden increase in poaching post 2010 and the birth of new militant outfits in the neighbourhood of Kaziranga. Specifically, in 2011, the Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger was formed with the stated goal of an autonomous Karbi State. The Karbi hills adjoins the Kaziranga National Park.

An analysis of complaints and chargesheets filed by the police and forest department in and around Kaziranga National park, between 2011 and 2014, reveals the direct involvement of this group as well as Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front in poaching of rhinos. The complaints specifically mention the chairman of the Liberation Tiger, Ron Rongpi, as well as defence secretary of the Liberation Front as being involved in poaching. There have been direct recovery of significant number of AK-56 and AK-47 rifles in addition to other sophisticated weapons and large stocks of ammunition.

A board proclaiming the biological heritage of the park. Image: Peter Andersen/Wikimedia [Licensed under CC BY 2.5]
A board proclaiming the biological heritage of the park. Image: Peter Andersen/Wikimedia [Licensed under CC BY 2.5]

The rhino has become a living gold mine and its high-value horn is not just a traditional Chinese medicine, but a currency to buy illegal weapons and fund terrorism. Rhino poaching is thus not just a conservation issue, it has serious national security implications.

In a way, the BBC documentary has drawn national attention to a conservation park which is naively considered as a conservation success simply because of its impressive rhino numbers. Irrespective of the merit of the BBC story, every incident of human rights violations – whether of tribals, locals or even so-called illegal immigrants – needs to be thoroughly investigated with all seriousness and action should be taken in accordance with law.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority, acted with unprecedented speed in taking action against the BBC for what it called a wrong portrayal of India’s conservation effort. One only hopes that the the Authority shows the same level of enthusiasm and initiative when it comes to protecting the tiger habitats, which is its statutory mandate. The government of Assam must give priority and consider Kaziranga as a park that needs serious attention and not just as a showpiece for tourist and high-profile visitors to come and feed orphaned rhinos and elephants. Conservation groups should seriously reconsider the opinion that the Kaziranga model of conservation should be replicated in other parks as a solution for all conservation problems.

Kaziranga is not a symbol of conservation success, it is the epitome of all the challenges faced in conserving and protecting wildlife in India. Its model cannot be and should not be replicated in other parks.

Ritwick Dutta is an environmental lawyer and leads the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment.

https://scroll.in/article/831065/a-letter-to-jaitley-why-do-students-get-jailed-but-rss-leaders-who-issue-vile-threats-walk-freely

Adani group seeks another 142ha forest land near Nagzira

NAGPUR:The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), topmost body under MoEFCC which in recent times has been on a forest land diversion spree, is considering another proposal to divert 142 hectares forest land for Adani Power Maharashtra Limited (APML) in Tiroda in Gondia district.

The proposed land is zudpi and protected forest land, equivalent to roughly 103 football fields, and barely 8km from Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR). This is the second forest land diversion since commissioning of the 3,300MW plant in 2013. Earlier, 164 hectares forest was diverted to the power major.

The land is to be used for building ash utilization park and came before FAC on February 28. Environmentalists have opposed the proposed diversion considering the facts that the said extension falls in the wildlife corridor and is close to NNTR. They say it will negatively impact the core area and tigers.

Wildlife expert Kishor Rithe, who was member of the NTCA committee to study impact of 164 hectare forest land diversion in 2010, has urged FAC to reject the proposal stating that fresh diversion will cause pollution and will not only impact residents but also spill over population of tigers and Nagzira adversely.

"It would be a setback for long-term tiger conservation in the region," he added. Even review by Pushp Jain, director of EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), Delhi, says Adani proposal underplays biodiversity value of the land and it is also a non-site specific activity. "There is thumb rule that forest land should not be diverted for non-site specific activity," Jain said.

Further, ERC says cost-benefit analysis presented by the user agency doesn't mention loss of non-timber forest products (NTFP), which is shown as nil. "If the forest land is diverted and 1,500 trees chopped down, the NTFPs, which are a source of income for the locals, will also be lost," said Jain. Gondia forest division working plan clarifies that the area has great NTFP diversity such as mahua flower and seed, kullu, dhaoda and salad gums, charoli, hirda, beheda, honey, lac etc.

Gondia deputy conservator Jitendra Ramgaonkar tried to justify the proposed diversion. "The capacity of existing fly ash ponds is exhausted and tonnes of ash was being generated daily. If additional facilities are not created the plant will shut," he added.

Adani thermal power plant generates at least 6,000 tonnes of ash daily but only 300 tonnes is used for brick making and land filling. A German firm plans to set up ash park by investing Rs50-60 crore and sources said this would be first such park in the country.

Roy Paul, general manager (corporate communication), Adani Power, sought a day to give an official version.


Experts point out forest land was being sought despite non-forest land being available. Forest land was being being sought as it would come cheap at only Rs8-9 lakh per hectare, they said.

Ramgaonkar said the land was fragmented and difficult to manage. "To approach it, one has to go through power plant gates. It is also out of NNTR eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) and we have sought Rs 3 crore for wildlife conservation from Adani," he added.


Jain said forest officials were casual about wild animal presence in the site inspection report. One of the animals is mentioned as 'common have', hyena, wild boar, deer etc. Interestingly, there is no animal by name 'common have' and also the use of the word 'etc' is ambiguous.

 

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/adani-group-seeks-another-142ha-forest-land-near-nagzira/articleshow/57482529.cms?utm_source=toimobile&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_campaign=referral#

FAC considered diversion of 4179 ha on 28 February 2017

FAC considered diversion of 4179 ha on 28 February 2017            

As usual serious delays in sharing of agenda by MoEF&CC

Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) is considering diversion of 4179 ha of forest in its meeting on 28 February as per the agenda shared in public domain, just 4 days before the meeting on 23 February.

For a change, instead of mining, maximum diversion is proposed for two defence projects amounting to 35 per cent (1445 ha) of the total followed by two Hydel projects amounting to 33 per cent (1357 ha). Chhattisgarh leads among states with maximum diversion proposed followed by Arunachal Pradesh.

 

SECTOR WISE AREA PROPOSED FOR DIVERSION

Sr. No.

Sector

Area

% Area

Proposals

% Proposals

1

DEFENCE

1445.75

34.60

2

18.18

2

HYDEL

1356.83

32.47

2

18.18

3

MINING

1181.35

28.27

5

45.45

4

OTHERS

141.99

3.40

1

9.09

5

WIND POWER

52.66

1.26

1

9.09

-

Total

4178.58

100.00

11

100.00

 

STATE AND SECTOR WISE AREA PROPOSED FOR DIVERSION

Sr. No.

State

Sector

Area

% Area

Proposals

% Proposals

1

ANDHRA PRADESH

WIND POWER

52.66

1.26

1

9.09

2

ARUNACHAL PRADESH

HYDEL

1165.66

27.90

1

9.09

3

CHHATTISGARH

DEFENCE

845.34

20.23

1

9.09

4

CHHATTISGARH

MINING

665.23

15.92

1

9.09

5

JHARKHAND

MINING

34.64

0.83

1

9.09

6

MADHYA PRADESH

DEFENCE

600.406

14.37

1

9.09

7

MAHARASHTRA

OTHERS

141.99

3.40

1

9.09

8

ODISHA

MINING

481.485

11.52

3

27.27

9

UTTARAKHAND

HYDEL

191.173

4.58

1

9.09

-

TOTAL

-

4178.584

100.00

11

100.00

 

*Out of 14 items in the agenda (as on 23.02.2017) 3 are excluded being Modification of approval, Stage I granted and Policy issue. 

 

Analysis by

 

Pushp Jain & Terence Jorge

EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC)

New Delhi - 110 048. India Web : ercindia.org;

Email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

LIST OF PROJECTS

SI No.

File no.

Name of the Proposal / Agenda Item

State

Area (ha)

Category

View Documents

Sandeep Sharma AIGF(FC)

1

8-20/2014-FC

REVISED PROPOSAL FOR DIVERSION OF 1165.66 HA INCLUDIND(91.33 HA UNDER GROUND AREA) OF FORESTLAND FOR CONSTRUCTION OF ETALIN HYDRO ELECTRIC PROJECT (3097 MW) IN DIBANG VALLEY DISTRICT OF ARUNCHAL PRADESH BY M/S ETALIN HYDRO ELECTRIC POWER COMPANY LTD

ARUNACHAL PRADESH

1165.66

HYDEL

Click On

2

8-02/2016-FC

ESTABLISH TECHNICAL FACILITY FOR DEFENCE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION

CHHATTISGARH

845.34

DEFENCE

Click On

3

8-59/2012-FC

DIVERSION OF 197.173 HA. OF FOREST LAND FOR 252 MW DEVSARI HYDRO ELECTRIC PROJECT ON RIVER PINDER IN TEHSIL THARALI, DISTT. CHAMOLI IN FAVOUR OF M/S SJVN

UTTARAKHAND

191.173

HYDEL

Click On

4

8-ORA105/2006-FCD

DIVERSION OF GANDHAMARDAN BLOCK 'A' MINES IN KEONJHAR FOREST DIVISION IN FAVOUR OF M/S ORISSA MINING CORPORATION LIMITED

ORISSA

216.3617

MINING

Click On

5

8-12/2016-FC

BAILADILA IRON-ORE MINE DEPSIT - 4 DIVERSION OF 570.10 HA. OF FOREST LAND OF MINING LEASE AREA AND 95.13 HA. OF FOREST LAND FOR OUT SIDE MINING AREA

CHHATTISGARH

665.23

MINING

Click On

6

8-11/2009-FC VOL.

PROPOSAL FOR MODIFICATION OF APPROVAL GRANTED EARLIER AND POST FACTO APPROVAL FOR 14.491 HA. OF ADDITIONAL FOREST LAND UTILIZED, IN THE CASE OF DIVERSION OF 56.508 HA. OF FOREST LAND IN HYARADA RESERVE FOREST, DAVANGERE DIVISION FOR ALREADY ESTABLISHED 39.60 MW WIND POWER PROJECT IN FAVOUR OF M/S.CHITRADURGA WIND POWER PRIVATE LIMITED, BANGALORE-REGARDING.

KARNATAKA

56.508

WIND POWER

Click On

Rajagopal Prashant, AIGF(FC)

7

8-28/2016-FC

DIVERSION OF 52.66 HA OF FOREST LAND IN COMPT. NOS. 446, 445, 444, 443, 441, 440 AND 438 OF KUDERU AND KONDAPALLI RF OF ANANTHAPURAMU FOREST DIVISON & DISTRICT OF ANDHRA PRADESH FOR ESTABLISHING WIND POWER PROJECT.

ANDHRA PRADESH

52.66

WIND POWER

Click On

Nisheeth Saxena, AIGF(FC)

8

8-40/2016-FC

DIVERSION OF 600.406 HA. OF FOREST LAND IN FAVOUR OF DEFENCE MINISTRY, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF DEFENCE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATION (DRDO).

MADHYA PRADESH

600.406

DEFENCE

 

9

11-91/2012-FC

ADVANCE FIXING DATES FOR FAC MEETING IN WHOLE YEAR.

NIL

NIL

POLICY ISSUE

 

Rajagopal Prashant, AIGF(FC)

10

8-68/2004-FC (VOL-I)

DIVERSION OF ADDITIONAL 34.64 HA OF FOREST LAND FOR URIMARI OPEN CAST MINING PROJECT IN FAVOUR OF M/S CENTRAL COALFIELDS LIMITED IN HAZARIBAGH DISTRICT OF JHARKHAND.

JHARKHAND

64.64

MINING

 

Sandeep Sharma AIGF(FC)

11

8-07/2017-FC

DIVERSION OF 141.99 HA PROTECTED FOREST LAND & ZUDPI FOREST LAND UNDER FOREST (CONSERVATION) ACT., 1980 FOR THE PURPOSED ASH UTILIZATION, PROMOTION AND RESEARCH PARK AT VILLAGE KACHEWANI & MENDIPUR, TAL. TIRODA, DISTT. GONDIA, MAHARASHTRA.

MAHARASHTRA

141.99

OTHERS

Click On

12

8-46/2016-FC

DIVERSION OF 434.935 HA OF FOREST LAND WITH KODINGMALI BAUXITE MINING LEASE AREA INCLUDING 18.098 HA OF FOREST LAND IN SAFETY ZONE AND 6.860 HA OF FOREST LAND OUTSIDE THE ML AREA FOR CONSTRUCTION OF APPROACH ROAD TO THE MINING LEASE ) FOR MINING OF BAUXITE IN KODINGMALI BAUXITE MINES LOCATED IN KORAPUT AND RAYAGADA DISTRICTS OF ODISHA BY M/S OMC.

ORISSA

434.935

MINING

Click On

13

8-100/1997-FC (VOL.)

DIVERSION OF BALANCE 17.14 HA OF SABIK KISAM FOREST LAND AS ON 25.10.1980 INCLUDING 0.57 HA OF FOREST LAND IN SAFETY ZONE IN ADDITION TO ALREADY DIVERTED FOREST LAND OF 224.63 HA FOR CHROMITE MINING IN THEIR SARUABIL CHROMITE MINE OF 246.858 HA IN VILLAGE SARUABIL, KAMARDA AND TAILANGI UNDER SUKINDA TAHASIL OF JAJPUR DISTRICT, ODISHA UNDER CUTTACK FOREST DIVISION DURING EXTENDED MINING LEASE PERIOD AS PER MMDR (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2015 BY M/S MISRILAL MINES (P) LTD.

ORISSA

17.14

MINING

Click On

14

8-176/1997-FC (VOL.)

DIVERSION OF 29.41 HA OF FOREST LAND (20.89 HA FRESH FOREST LAND AND 8.52 HA OF FOREST LAND FOR RE-DIVERSION OUT OF ALREADY DIVERTED FOREST AREA OF 227.89 HA FOR KULDA OCP OF MAHANANDI COALFIELDS LTD.) IN SUNDARGARH FOREST DIVISION OF SUNDARGARH DISTRICT, ODISHA FOR CONSTRUCTION OF BASUNDHARA COAL WASHERY (10 MTY) BY M/S MAHANADI COALFIELDS LIMITED.

ORISSA

29.41

MINING

 

 

 

Sarguja mine expansion stalled

Environment Ministry panel puts plan on hold over coal mine’s compliance

An expert body of the Environment Ministry has put on hold a proposal by Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd. to expand the Sarguja mine, which is operated by an Adani-group company, for not complying with environmental clearances.

The ‘Parsa East and Kanta Basan’ open cast mine, which consists of a coal washery and being developed at a cost of ₹2,369 crore, involves 1,871 hectares of forest and an elephant corridor.

It is already mired in litigation. Resident tribal groups and activists have complained that the operations of the mine, temporarily cleared by the Supreme Court to operate at a capacity of 10 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), have over the years led to heightened dust pollution from the increased vehicular traffic, unchecked burning of coal and contamination of common water sources due to the discharge of mine-waste.

 

The Adani-group company operates the mine on behalf of the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (RRVNL) which has been allotted the block for 30 years, from where coal will be sourced to run thermal power plants in Rajasthan of around 4000 MW capacity.

RRVNL had approached the Expert Appraisal Committee for Thermal and Coal Mining Sector projects, a Union Environment Ministry body, for permission to expand the coal mine’s capacity from the existing 10 mtpa to 15 mtpa. According to estimates, 452 million tonnes can be extracted from the mine and the project will displace 114 families.

“The Committee was not convinced with the compliance status of Environment Clearance conditions,” say the minutes of the environment ministry’s expert panel. “The expansion may cause significant impact on the surrounding environment including socio-economic aspects.”

http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/adani-mining-s-sarguja-expansion-stalls/article17314000.ece

Modi government to amend law to bar courts from stalling development projects

http://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2017/feb/12/modi-government-to-amend-law-to-bar-courts-from-stalling-development-projects-1569606.html 

 

By Yatish Yadav  |   Published: 12th February 2017 07:15 AM  |  

NEW DELHI: Irked by the number of development schemes—which are high on the PM’s agenda—getting shelved owing to injunctions, the Narendra Modi government is ready with an amendment that bars the courts from issuing interim stays.

The latest irritant for the government was the National Green Tribunal stay, issued on January 2, on the Pune Metro proposal, just days after Modi performed the bhoomi pujan. While the Supreme Court vacated the NGT order on January 21, the government is set to amend the Specific Relief Act, drawing a laxman rekha for courts dealing with cases pertaining to public works contracts.

The government note, reviewed by The Sunday Standard, contains the new section, 14 A, seeking to restrict the power of courts to grant injunctions THAT impede or delay the timely completion of welfare projects. The draft will go to the Cabinet for approval, after which it will be introduced in Parliament when it opens on March 9.  

The latest World Bank report ranks India among the bottom five of 190 countries on ease of doing business.

Section 14 A intends litigation not to halt the progress of infrastructure projects. Leaving no scope for interpretation, the amendment also seeks to specifically define “public works contract” by altering Section 2 of Specific Relief Act. “Public works contract means a contract entered into by or on behalf of the Central government, a state government, a local self government or an agency thereof, for the creation, upgradation, operation or maintenance of infrastructure, including roads, water supply, electricity, sewerage treatment, construction of public buildings, highways, bridges, ports, schools, airports, urban development and railways,” the note reviewed by this newspaper said.

Government sources said corporate rivalry and tussles between governments and investors cause projects to be challenged in courts. By the time a case is decided, there is a cost escalation of the scheme by ten times in the majority of cases. The bar on injunction could apply even at the stage of the tendering process.

The Narendra Modi government is adding a new section, 14A, to The Specific Relief Act in an amendment seeking to restrict the power of judiciary. If passed in Parliament, courts will no longer be able to grant injunctions, which may impede or delay the timely completion of welfare projects.

“Intent of the proposed law is to get the work done rather than compensation. The existing law was giving discretionary power to the court for remedies concerning breach of contract. The discretion is sought to be regimented through amendments which will ensure that even in cases where contract cannot be performed, the project remains alive at the cost of the defaulter running away from the agreement,” sources further added.

In line with the government’s development agenda, more amendments may be brought to apply to other provisions of the Specific Relief Act to deter parties choosing not to fulfill their contract obligations. The government will insert a new section, 20A, in the Act to allow a contract to be finished by a third party at the original contractor’s expense if the latter decides to abandon a project halfway. The note said, “Insertion of a new section 20A, to provide for a new relief of compensation for substituted performance of contract, so that the promisee (a party to the contract) who suffers from breach of contract performed through substituted performance by a third person at the cost and expense of the promisor (defaulter) committing such breach.”

Since courts lack technical expertise, the amendment will empower them to seek the help of experts to assist.

Under the existing law, the courts grant monetary compensation in exceptional circumstances. The government note argues that such remedies are not available to the parties as a matter of right, being entirely at the discretion of the court. “Where the legal system prefers compensatory relief, the promisor (defaulter/ contractor) has an incentive to break his contract if such course of action is more beneficial to him than performing it (completing the project).”