Wednesday 27 March 2013

The first ever wildlife swap

India is a developing economy and it is still an emerging power. The race for development has taken a heavy toll of  environment and the Government seems to be at its wits end in dealing with problems relating to ecology, environment and human displacement.
The Indian Government seems to believe in the adage that what is good for it should be good to the people. Thus, we have the unique spectacle of people in almost all the states protesting against what they call is their Government’s inability to address ecological concerns and bullheadedly going ahead with projects that spell disaster for ecology and environment.
Be it the Narmada project or development of Western Ghats, Kaiga Nuclear project, Silent Valley in Kerala, mining in Karnataka and Kerala, there have been howls of protests and massive demonstrations against them or jostle the parties into coming to an understanding.
But to be fair to the Government, it has not been able to feel the pulse of the people and it has often floundered in tackling issues related to flora and fauna. However, just an year ago, there was a silver lining in the cloud when the Government itself stepped forward to come out with what we could call the first wildlife swap in India.
This swap took place in Karnataka and that too in the pristine forests Of what has already been designated a wildlife corridor.
This first path breaking initiative was floated by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and it has helped restore a 25-km wildlife corridor, which had been disrupted by a 220 KVA power transmission line in the Kudremukh National Park in Chikamagalur district.
This “conservation swap” was first mooted by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the MoEF and the State Forest department. This sled to the State Government physically dismantle the Kemmar-Kudremukh line on April 17, 2012, paving the way for the restoration of the corridor.
The transmission line was originally supporting the now defunct Kudremukh Iron Ore Company (KIOCL)’s mining operations. The mining operations was shut down by the Supreme Court in response to a litigation by local wildlife conservation groups. The judgment is a landmark in the annals of Indian judiciary.  
The State Government had applied to the  FAC in early 2010 for permitting it to install a power line to evacuate power from the thermal power plant of the Udupi Power Corporation (UPC) at Nandikur.
As the proposed 400 KVA power line cuts through an 8.3-km stretch of evergreen forest corridor in Balur State forest of Chikmagalur district, a field inspection of the ecological impact was conducted by an FAC expert committee. The committee consisted of wildlife researcher K Ullas Karanth and A J T Johnsingh, retired dean of the Wildlife Institute of India.
Based on the ecological analysis, FAC proposed the “conservation swap” scheme for the first time in India. They recommended that to compensate for the loss of the 8.3-km wildlife corridor because of the power line, the State Government must dismantle an existing 25-km power transmission line passing through Kudremukh National Park.
However, this recommendation was not implemented initially due to delays on part of KIOCL. By then, construction of the new power line had started. The new power line led to protests by local wildlife groups.
The FAC intervened in the fracas and it viewed the violations seriously. The Chief Secretary of Karnataka, S.V. Ranganath, and the Principal Secretary of Forests, Kaushik Mukherjee, gave an undertaking to the FAC on October 12, 2011.
The undertaking promised that the existing power line through Kudremukh would be dismantled before the Udupi Power Corporation transmission line got commissioned.
Finally, on April 17, the physical dismantling of the Kemmar-Kudremukh power line began, after alternative power was provided to a few affected villages on the eastern edge of the park.
Kudremukh National Park today is recognised as the largest block of tropical evergreen forests in Western Ghats, which are now known as one of 38 global biodiversity hotspots of the world. The park is an astonishing treasure house of biological resources and the source of Tunga, Bhadra and Nethravathi rivers. A proposed tiger reserve, Kudremukh is home to many endangered species like the tiger, elephants, lion-tailed macaques, king cobra and great Indian hornbills.
What this conservation swap shows is that the Government can be goaded to take corrective action provided it is convinced. Can we hope that this first swap will be the harbinger of many other such ecologically important deals.

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