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An Outline For Reform


Suniti Bhushan Datta

SAVING WILD INDIA: A BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGE
By Valmik Thapar
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 168, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 10 October 2015

Wildlife, forests and natural resources in India have never before been under such a concerted threat of obliteration, as they are now, under a regime that is as keen on overexploiting them as they are cavalier towards the intrinsic value of the environment to human survival. Much has been commented on the future of the country’s forests and wilderness, but Valmik Thapar’s new book goes a step further and proposes an outline for reforming conservation and environmental policy in the country. The book begins with a preamble, where the author talks about his own history of effecting conservation actions and policies, stretching back some 40 years, from localized conservation action at the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, to being a member of national policy-level committees. In his experience, as he sums it up, the problem is that, ‘Even through in the 1970s and 1980s many remarkable forest officers served in different regions of India, I believe it was their contribution as individuals that held up a service, which as an institution was deteriorating rapidly. By the 1990s, these individuals were difficult to find and the service was a mess. Much ignored politically, and misused by the government, the service was not renewed, or reformed.’ Wildlife laws and conservation advocacy have taken many forms in this country, from the Mahabharata (as quoted in the opening papers) through laws made by the British (such as the Indian Forest Act, 1865), to the modern avatar, the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), amended up to 2012. While these laws have taken a modern form, many are based on pre-Independence understanding of conservation, ‘creating endless conflicts and contradictions in day-to-day governance.’ The most controversial law of recent times that involves the use of forests has been the Forest Rights Act (2006) (FRA), which was created to give rights to forest-dwellers who have been residing in forests for many generations. As someone who was associated in conceiving the Forest Rights Act, the author describes the conflicts that arose between the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, since the FRA contradicted the Wildlife Protection Act, which states that, ‘national parks are inviolate.’ He quotes from the CAG’s (Comptroller and Auditor General) audit report which categorically states that the FRA can ‘be exploited and incorrect claims can make forest areas vulnerable’. The author proposes the need to have a single, ‘non-contradictory law that governs our natural ...


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