Meeting of the State Board for Wildlife, Uttarakhand, March 2013

A Gujjar in Kolluchaur, near Corbett.
Prerna Bindra
The voluntary relocation of Gujjars is vital not only for wildlife, but also for their own welfare as they face tremendous hardships living within remote forests.

A meeting of the State Board for Wildlife, Uttarakhand, was held in Dehradun under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, Shri.Vijay Bahuguna on 16th March 2013.

Some of the discussions and decisions are summarized below:

  1. Voluntary relocation got a major boost at this meeting of the State Board, with the CM agreeing to fast track the relocation of Gujjars from Kalagarh Tiger Reserve and Rajaji on a priority basis. The CM was appraised of the plight of the Gujjars, who have been petitioning for relocation for years due to a lack of basic facilities like electricity and healthcare, as well as being cut off during monsoons.
  2. Corbett Tiger Reserve has no less than 250 Gujjar deras in its Kalagarh Division. Although the Gujjar deras are spread all over the Kalagarh Division, most are in the core/critical tiger habitat. Most of their buffaloes congregate along the reservoir (Hathikund, Laldarwaja and adjoining areas) during the summer months. These are prime meadows, which form when the water level of the reservoir recedes in summer, giving rise to a new flush of Cynodon dactylon grass (a palatable species with high nutrition value). If Gujjars are resettled from this area, a huge amount of grass biomass in Kalagarh Division will be available for wild ungulates. This will ensure an increase in prey density and allow tiger density to reach its optimal level. It was also pointed out to the CM that Gujjars from Lansdowne Forest division were also equally keen to move out, and this must also be given immediate attention, considering the importance of Lansdowne as a corridor linking Corbett and Rajaji.
  3. Relocation of Sundarkhal village, an encroachment on the Kosi river corridor, also got special attention, and a committee to prioritise this is to be constituted. This is important as the village not only blocks access of tigers, elephants and other wildlife from Corbett to the Kosi river and further into the Ramnagar forest, but the villagers bear the brunt of the high level of human-tiger conflict. There was much pressure from local politicians to allow Gujjars into the core area to graze their cattle; however, a decision was taken that the gujjars may graze their cattle only in the buffer, and could not be allowed in the core critical habitat as per law.
  4. The CM also agreed to the decision for the removal of the illegal irrigation colony from Kalagarh Tiger Reserve. In spite of a 1999 High Court order, an illegal township of over 2,500-odd houses, a school, a college and an irrigation engineering academy continues to spread over and thrive in 1.5 sq km of core critical tiger habitat in CTR. The colony includes encroachers and those who have bought land from the irrigation staff.
  5. I have consistently been pushing for the authorised use of official firearms by Forest Department personnel in the course of discharge of duty while protecting wildlife and valuable forest resources under relevant provisions of the law (Sec. 197 of the Cr. P.C.) and have been assured that this will be done on a priority basis.
  6. Another very important issue was that of Eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) for PAs in Uttarakhand. A judiciously planned and notified ESZ will go a long way in protecting the integrity of our few remnant wildlife habitats and PAs, while being very mindful of varying regimes of ownership, access and use of these areas. The notification and creation of ESZs, therefore, is an exercise of far-reaching consequences for wildlife conservation, which will have wide ramifications for the years to come. There is a deadline to submit proposed ESZ’s to the centre by May 15th. It was proposed that the ESZ’s be judiciously demarcated, keeping in mind the ecological imperatives and realities on the ground. It was recognized that there should be a core group of experts, conservationists, scientists involved in the process.
  7. There was special concern for the high altitude parks, given the high number of hydel projects. The poaching and hunting of musk deer, brown bears, black bears, snow leopard and other wildlife continues with impunity feeding the illegal trade in wildlife derivatives. The need to address this was stressed.

These are some of the conservation issues that were discussed, but of course the board also had before it a number of proposals for clearances within and around PAs. The most worrying were border roads. The pressure to clear these proposals is immense, given that these are ‘strategic’ for our security. While I understand and appreciate these imperatives, I worry immensely for these remote regions, our last wilderness areas, which will now see the destructive human imprint.

There were a lot of proposals for border roads in the Pithoragarh region, in the vicinity of the Askot sanctuary (whose notification and boundaries are disputed and under litigation). These roads are essentially for connectivity of some remote villages but largely border roads, as this border transcends China (China is not just ‘killing’ our tigers and other animals with their demand for bones and other wildlife derivatives, I find the security threat which is driving making of roads, fences, posts in our remotest borders in the forests very worrying). While allowing for a survey of the five essential roads, we asked for an impact assessment for all the various roads asked for in this sanctuary, and to speed up the process of rationalisation of Askot sanctuary, so that it serves the purpose of conservation and looks at the needs of the local people. Antagonism against Askot is a very serious issue. Given that most border roads (and land for outposts) were sought by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the army, members pressed that the state must:

A. Work with the ITBP for the shifting of their camp, which sits on the Gola elephant corridor, a vital link in the Terai Arc landscape.

B. Work with the army for shifting of the Raiwalla Ammunition dump in Rajaji National Park. (Alternate land for this has already been identified, but there has simply been no action for over a decade, while the Chilla-Moticur corridor is choked).

There were other issues discussed, and permissions given for mining of minor minerals by Forest Development Corp of the already existing leases.

The 444 MW Vishnugarh-Pipalkoti Hydroelectric Project also got the nod (it will subsequently go to the Standing Committee, National Board for Wildlife) due to the fact that the cumulative impact report of the Wildlife Institute of India does not include Vishnugarh-Pipalkoti in the 24 projects (of the 39 proposed that it studied) planned on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, the two main tributaries of the Ganga in Uttarakhand, that should not be allowed, as they will cause irretrievable harm to the river.

Black topping of Kodiya-Kimsar forest road in Rajaji was refused.

The permission to open up forests, to divert forestland/ PAs is tremendous, and very worrisome; however, for me the achievement is that we also discussed, highlighted and were able to table a number of conservation issues. At least these have now been brought to the attention of the decision-making authorities.

Prerna Singh Bindra is currently employed as Senior Consultant – Conservation Support, Policy & Communications, WCS-India. She is Member, National Board of Wildlife and also part of the core Standing Committee of the NBWL. She authored the book ‘The King and I’ and edited an anthology on wildlife writings ‘Voices in the Wilderness’. Prerna also edits TigerLink.

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