Critical Wildlife Habitats
- October 27, 2021
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
Critical Wildlife Habitats
Subject – Environment
Context – When conservation efforts collide with tribal rights in Maharashtra
- A Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay High Court, originally filed in 2013, has gathered momentum over the issue of critical wildlife habitat in the past couple of years.
- As the High Court enquired about government action, the state forest department declared 54 sites as critical wildlife habitats, in an effort to protect endangered wildlife.
- However, activists and academics allege that there has been undue haste and several violations in this implementation. Local communities say that their claims under the Forest Rights Act are yet to be settled and this move of declaring the sites as critical wildlife habitats under the same act will come in the way of fair and just treatment to the tribals.
About Critical Wildlife Habitats –
- CWLHs are meant to be areas of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries that are required to be kept as inviolate for the purpose of wildlife conservation (not just tigers). CWLH mandatorily requires settlement of forest rights under FRA.
- The two processes are, thus, independent of each other where the settlement of forest rights comes at different stages.
- As envisaged in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, Critical Wildlife Habitats are to be declared by the Central Government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests after a process of consultation by Expert Committees.
History of Critical Wildlife Habitat Guidelines
- In order to notify a CWH, the Act requires state governments to establish that the presence of right-holders is causing irreversible damage to wildlife and their habitats, and that co-existence between rights holders and wildlife was not a reasonable option.
- In 2007 and 2011, two versions of the guidelines for notifying CWHs were drafted by the MoEF&CC (then MoEF), but withdrawn amidst lack of consensus between foresters and forest rights groups. The result was that after more than a decade of FRA’s existence, not a single CWH had been notified, creating uproar from wildlife conservation groups.
- In March 2017, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) issuedan order to deny forest rights in critical tiger habitats (core areas of tiger reserves) in the absence of CWH guidelines.
- MoEF&CC finally issued CWH guidelines in 2018
Notifying CWHs: Key features of guidelines
- The Chief Wildlife Warden of a state will notify an Expert Committee for the purpose of identification of critical wildlife habitats (CWH) in a national park or sanctuary.
- The Expert Committee will identify areas within national parks and sanctuaries, based on scientific and objective criteria relevant to the protected area, required to be kept inviolate for the purpose of wildlife conservation.
- The Expert Committee shall issue a public notice on the intention to notify CWH. The public notice shall include details of areas required to be kept inviolate, criteria adopted for CWH identification, implication of the notification on existing rights, and all options of resettlement and rehabilitation schemes, if applicable.
- The Expert Committee shall carry out open consultations with all stakeholders, and the proceedings of the consultations, especially the objections, will be documented appropriately.
- The committee will submit the CWH proposal to the Chief Wildlife Warden. The decision on the proposal will taken by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.
- A MoTA representative would be invited during the deliberation of the proposal by the standing committee. Following the committee’s recommendation, the notification of CWH will be published in the official gazette.
Critical Tiger Habitats
- Critical ‘tiger’ habitats (CTHs), also known as core areas of tiger reserves—are identified under the Wild Life Protection Act (WLPA), 1972 based on scientific evidence that “such areas are required to be kept as inviolate for the purpose of tiger conservation, without affecting the rights of the Scheduled Tribes or such other forest dwellers”.
- The notification of CTH is done by the state government in consultation with the expert committee constituted for the purpose.
- ‘Inviolate’ is a general term used to indicate no human settlement and usage. This inevitably implies that establishing CTHs as inviolate areas requires relocation of people living in such areas.