Rebel thorn in green card cuts Delhi

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By AYSWARIA VENUGOPAL in Delhi
  • Published 5.10.05
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New Delhi, Oct. 5: The Centre spent UN funds on a four-year study of how to protect the country’s flora and fauna. It now apparently wants to junk the report because it contains some “embarrassing” suggestions.

For instance, the report says a “dialogue needs to be started with militant groups in the Northeast and Naxalite groups in central India” to save the biodiversity of these regions.

Kalpvriksh, the NGO that anchored the report ? prepared with the involvement of thousands of activists, academics and villagers ? says the government is annoyed also because the report blames its development policies for the loss of biodiversity.

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Global Environmental Facility funded the study on the understanding that the Union environment and forests ministry would make the report the basis for a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). All member countries of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity are to submit such a plan to the UNDP by 2006.

But now the ministry is looking to jettison the report, Kalpvriksh activist Ashish Kothari said. “The ministry never wrote to us spelling out the objections it has to the report’s recommendations. It just told us the report would not be the basis for a national action plan,” he said.

“But in reply to a question in Parliament, the ministry said the report contains recommendations that could embarrass the country at international forums.”

The ministry, in this context, mentioned the suggestion in the report that the government start dialogues with militants and Naxalites.

The report’s point was that these armed groups control large areas rich in biodiversity and the government cannot hope to have a viable action plan without their cooperation. But the Centre is not keen to acknowledge before the world that extremist groups run parallel governments in many areas.

“To conserve diversity, the government must talk with militants,” Kothari said. He mentioned the Manas tiger reserve in Assam, which till recently was a hotbed of insurgency.

The ministry’s reply to Parliament also referred to the report’s criticism of the models of development being followed in India. The report said these models ? which include the setting up of industries, mines and dams ? had been the main cause of biodiversity loss in the Northeast and the Western Ghats.

Environmentalist Shekhar Singh said the Centre was in danger of violating its agreement with the UNDP.

Any report on the NBSAP has to be approved by a steering committee ? made of representatives from eight central ministries, the Planning Commission and four NGOs ? before it is submitted to the UNDP. But the ministry has not held any meeting of the committee for the last two to three years, he said.

“All that the ministry will be able to submit to the UNDP in 2006 is a technical report and not an action plan, as required,” Singh said.