What India wants: “We must cease to perceive environment & forest laws as hurdles’

In The Hindustan Times today (18th May 2014):

forests n water

The environment was largely given a miss in most manifestos, but we hope—against hope—that the new government gives it priority, given that a healthy environment is the foundation of national growth.

First, it is crucial that we cease to perceive environment and forests laws as ‘hurdles’. Environmental degradation is costing India 5.7 per cent of her GDP. Therefore, we need to strenghten and not dilute environment, forest and wildlife regulations. India is already bearing the brunt of Climate Change and to soften these impacts is priority strategy must be to conserve old growth forests, viewed globally as a cost-effective option  to mitigate climate change, and not destroy forests—which contribute upwards of 18 percent of global emissions.

Protected Areas—barely 4.5% of our land—are the last refuges for our endangered wildlife, and cannot be fragmented any further. They’re strictly no-go, and sacrosanct. Additionally, important wildlife habitats and corridors must be brought under the umbrella of Eco-Sensitive Zones, particularly in view of the escalating human-wildlife conflict nationwide.

Critical tiger habitats and other critical wildlife habitats need to be made inviolate, and hence voluntary relocation of villages from within these needs to be incentivised and  fast-tracked not only for conservation, but importantly from the point of view of human welfare, as these forest dwellers are marginalised and isolated in enclosed villages in remote forests, away from mainstream India.

Illegal wildlife trade is second only to arms and narcotics and is linked to terrorism. It is imperative that the next government takes the gravity of the crime on board and empower enforcement agencies.

We need to spotlight and revive lesser known species like the great Indian bustard, hangul, dugongs, etc which are on the verge of extinction. Equally important is recognising the importance of grasslands and wetland ecosystems which have been dismissed as ‘wastelands’ and destroyed.

Last, but not least, the government in power must clean and conserve––and not ‘develop’ and link––rivers; maintaining their natural flow and sanctity is paramount, not just to preserve rare wildlife like dolphins and gharials, but for sustaining the rivers—and our lifelines.

 

Pix credit: Kalyan Verma

 

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