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Environment expert calls to promote biosphere reserves

NAGPUR: Experts on Thursday stressed the need for promoting biosphere reserves for biodiversity and wildlife protection and sustainable livelihoods for tribal communities living around protected areas (PAs).

In India, there are 18 biosphere reserves (BRs), which protect larger areas of natural habitat (than a national park or sanctuary), and often include parks along buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Six more such reserves are proposed.

"Under BRs, protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to human communities who inhabit these regions, with their culture and customs remaining intact," said Prodyut Bhattacharya, dean & professor with University of Environment Management at 
Guru Gobind Singh Indraprashtha University at Delhi.

Talking to TOI on the sidelines of a national seminar on 'Biosphere reserves, national parks, and protected area management-- human dimensions: Issues & challenges' at Anthropological Survey of India, Bhattacharya informed that PA area in the country was 1.65 lakh sq km i.e. 5.02% of geographical area. Plans were afoot to increase it to 9%.

The two-day seminar was opened by RTMNU VC V S Sapkal. G S Rautela, acting director of AnSI, Kolkata, was present.

Bhattacharya remarked that in India, you could not afford to increase the area under PA. If you do it, you invite more trouble. "I agree relocation of people from tiger reserves and national parks is necessary, but by relocating them from sanctuaries, you are creating ecological refugees," he opined.

Bhattacharya said an evaluation of PAs in four countries- India, Kenya, Indonesia and Costa Rica- on biodiversity and sustainable development counts was found unsatisfactory.

He added these relocated people would add to the urban areas, which are not very planned to hold these many. It would also lead to anthropological changes like loss of their culture and customs. Migration forced them to work as labourers and people too did not accept them. The urban population in India which was 32% now would go up to 40% by 2025. Hence, biosphere reserves were a better solution, he said.

At the same time, Bhattacharya called for better 
funding for protected areas to look into human dimensions. "There is a need to design economic and financial instruments for PA management which incorporate poverty reduction and economic development, equitable distribution of costs and benefits at all levels," he said.

Goals of PA and BR management are similar but in the latter focus is on participatory management. "You cannot put guard to protect every tree and animal. Hence it is the locals who can play a lead role," said Bhattacharya. He also called for setting up community school for national resource management.

Citing examples of Nandadevi ( 
Uttarakhand) and Sundarbans ( West Bengal), Bhattacharya said these areas were first declared as biosphere reserves. It went so well that now core areas of these two reserves have been declared as national parks.

Are Biosphere Reserves the future?

* Why:

Biosphere reserves can stop displacement. Unlike in protected areas (PAs), here human element is very much part of the system. It has participatory monitoring framework with indicators on key social and biological parameters and demonstrates approaches that enhance links between conservation & sustainable livelihoods.

* Advantages:

Enhances local institutional capacity for integrating biodiversity conservation and livelihoods. Can give ecological security by way of integrity of ecosystems and species, protection of critical ecosystems values and services. People's custom and culture are protected.

* Hurdles:

Although there is no legal sanctity to them, MoEF grants Rs 12 crore annually to biosphere reserves, which is too meagre. Forests are where minerals are found. Top 50 mineral bearing districts account for 18% of forests in India. It is up to the people to decide whether they want mines or ecological security. Good governance is also an issue.

The Times of India (28-09-2013)