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India blocks Unesco team’s Manas visit

Guwahati, June 18: India has succeeded in putting off a Unesco-IUCN reactive monitoring mission to Manas World Heritage Site this year after making a strong intervention which was backed by seven countries.

Sources said the countries which supported India’s intervention are Malaysia, Vietnam, Finland, the Philippines, Croatia, Turkey and Germany.

India’s intervention was led by the director of Wildlife Institute of India, V.B. Mathur, at the 38th meeting of World Heritage Committee under way in Doha, Qatar.

“The World Heritage Committee has decided to agree to India’s proposal of deleting paragraph 9 of the draft decision report of sending a Unesco-IUCN reactive monitoring mission to Manas WHS in 2014,” Mathur told The Telegraph.

Sources said the debate was intense and went for 30-odd minutes but India had gathered a lot of support in advance for its proposal from other members of the committee to get it passed without any hitch. Reactive monitoring is reporting by the World Heritage Centre and other agencies of Unesco and the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of specific World Heritage Properties that are under threat.

The Centre will, however, send a state of conservation report of Manas by next year as asked for.

The World Heritage Committee, in its draft decision, had requested India to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reactive monitoring mission to the property in order to assess its state of conservation.

This was particularly in relation to the reported illegal activities related to the deteriorating security situation, and to assess whether the property is faced with ascertained or potential danger. The committee had expressed concern over the reported deterioration of the security situation in the property.

It considered that a further deterioration of the security situation, associated with the reported surge in poaching and concerns regarding encroachment, could create conditions to re-inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Poaching of seven rhinos in Manas after the site got back its heritage tag in 2011 had led to serious concern worldwide. “We have said let Manas work for one more year to further improve the ground situation and if the situation does not improve then Unesco may send a reactive monitoring. So we have over 12 months to put our act together,” Mathur said.

He informed the committee that the country had taken adequate measures to provide protective layers to the site. “In addition to armed guards, community volunteers have been engaged to mount vigil against poaching. A system of smart patrolling — in which the frontline staff have been equipped with global positioning system devices and digital cameras — is in place. All this has led to positive outcomes. There has been zero poaching of rhinos at the site this year.”

On new encroachments reported in Bhuyanpara range of Manas, the government clarified that these encroachments are not in the form of permanent settlements, which can have serious consequences to outstanding universal value.

“Rather these encroachments are essentially seasonal cultivation of agricultural crops for human subsistence and have been a characteristic feature of this site and have had no significant adverse impacts on the outstanding universal value of the site,” he said.

On the reported deterioration of the security situation at the site, Mathur said it has to be seen in the context of the political processes that the country has recently gone through. “The entire country has witnessed parliamentary elections in the last six months and such resurgence of conflicts have been seen in many places. Now with a firm, strong and decisive government in place at the Centre, the illegal activities are going to soon wane,” he said.

Mathur said an indication of peace and normality returning to the site post election is proved by a joint Indo-Bhutan team of scientists and managers currently surveying amphibian and reptile diversity at the site as part of transborder cooperation.