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Maharashtra forms 4 subcommittees to expedite declaration of critical wildlife habitat

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The Maharashtra government has formed four subcommittees of the State Board of Wildlife (SBWL) to examine proposals for critical wildlife habitats (CWH) and expedite their declaration, according to a government resolution (GR) issued on Tuesday.

The state also published a GR on forming a panel (study group) to prepare a five-year conservation action plan for pangolins, the world’s most trafficked animal. HT had reported on Monday the approval of the state. The panel would be led by Ramesh Kumar, Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Pune.

Meanwhile, the four CWH subcommittees were established in revenue subdivisions such as Nagpur, Amravati, Konkan and Nashik, and Pune and Aurangabad. Each committee has at least two members with a coordinating forest officer. The responsibilities of the committees include verifying the CWH proposals submitted by the expert committee for a particular subdivision based on the guidelines issued by the Center, investigating the interests of the local population towards the creation of CWH, verifying whether Biodiversity will be conserved under the CWH label and will submit reports to the SBWL within 15 days of receiving a proposal, the GR said.

The matter was taken up by the state after SBWL member Kishor Rithe brought it up for discussion during a meeting on August 7.

At present, not just the state, the entire country does not have a single CWH despite the Union Environment Ministry implementing guidelines in January 2018, however the state wildlife director said it had approved proposals for eight CWHs in Vidarbha and the west. Maharashtra, which will present itself to the SBWL during its next meeting.

The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 includes the provision to notify CWHs, which are areas to be kept “inviolate for wildlife conservation purposes” identified within protected areas (PAs) such as national parks and sanctuaries. Therefore, the declaration of CWH does not necessarily imply the resettlement of forest dwellers, it can also be an area of ​​coexistence after modification of forest rights. FRA applies here as the forest rights of registered tribes and traditional forest dwellers are taken into account when proposing a CWH, while the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 implies conservation of the PA.

Currently, according to existing guidelines, the proposal to declare a CWH is evaluated on a case-by-case basis according to scientific and objective criteria, and community forest rights are discussed with village panchayats by expert committees formed for each PA, which They include governmental and non-governmental members. , social scientists, ecologists and representatives of the village panchayat and tribal welfare.

Maharashtra intends to declare CWH in the 55 PAs (49 wildlife sanctuaries and six national parks). “The idea is to declare a CWH in each PA of the state and ensure that the process is completed quickly to promote the protection not only of tigers, leopards and elephants, but also of threatened species such as the Indian bustard, the mouse deer, the giant squirrel. of Malabar and the eastern small-clawed otter of extinction, ”said Nitin Kakodkar, Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Maharashtra.

Kakodkar said expert committees have identified a particular area within the PA as CWH. Your proposals will be reviewed by the subcommittee and then recommended to SBWL. Once approved by SBWL, the proposal will be sent to the National Wildlife Board for recommendation. Once that happens, the Center will post a notice requesting suggestions and objections for a stipulated period of time after which the CWH will be declared. “I have approved eight proposals, mostly from the Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary, a few more areas in Vidarbha and a few along the Western Ghats. The Nagpur and Amravati subcommittees will soon begin deliberating on them, ”he said.

Rithe said it would have been more effective to establish just a larger general committee that accommodates all members rather than divisional subcommittees. “All committees must have a common understanding when addressing the complex issues of the PA. However, I have asked the PCCF to address this problem, ”he said.

The CWH issue was first raised by environmental group Vanashakti through its 2014 petition to the Bombay High Court seeking instructions to demarcate CWH to protect species from PA extinction due to intervention. direct human rights, agricultural expansion, poaching, etc. A prominent example was from Sanjay Gandhi National Park, where the striped hyena and the civet cat had become extinct. “After years of fighting, wildlife finally gets a little space to survive,” said Stalin D, director of Vanashakti, adding that in order to conserve species, it was imperative that some areas were kept free from human intervention. “Maharashtra will be the first state to demarcate the CWHs and hopefully we can halt the rapid decline and loss of biodiversity,” he said.

Report procedural flaws indicated in the identification of CWH

As Maharashtra intensifies its efforts to declare CWHs in all PAs, a report published by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and the non-profit Kalpavriksh in August highlighted several violations by the state in proposing a CWH. According to the report, the process of recognition of forest rights was far from complete in 39 PA with more than 1,000 peoples whose rights could overlap with PA boundaries. Among these, only 150 villages had received community rights over forest resources. The second finding included the forest department’s claim that 25 PAs had no human habitation, which the report said was incorrect. Third, the expert committees of the Palestinian Authority functioned without outlining specific criteria and were interpreting the CWH as simply human-free and demonstrating no real threat to the existence of wildlife.

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