Human – Animal Conflict… Who is The Real Victim?

Forest areas are increasingly decreasing and there seems to be a tug of war for land

On 28 January, SC after a decade long debate over a controversial plan allowed to import the African Cheetah from Namibia. Although the plan was allocated Rs 50 crore and approved in august 2012 but the court disallowed import in 2013. Kuno and Nauradehi Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh in Jaisalmer were selected by the Wildlife Institute of India as most suitable sites for the introduction project.

Kuno identified as a potential cheatah site in 2013 is now unlikely to get any Cheetah as much of its grassland that were created by relocating villages have naturally progressed to Woodlands and has barely any presence of chinkara or blackbuck who are potential prey of Cheetahs. Rajasthan too not so keen for Shahgar in Jaisalmer since the near extinct Great Indian Bustard is a potential pray for the Cheetah and hence putting them together cannot be contemplated at all.

This approval if carried out in isolation will further aggravate existing fragile Human- Animal Conflict (HAC) situation created mainly by uprooting or squeezing the people from their ancestral habitats for creating space for animals . HAC have occurred since the dawn of history but in recent past the blurring of lines between human settlements and forests resulted into more human losses than ever.

As of May 2012, the protected areas of India covered 156,700 square kilometres. National parks, Wildlife sanctuaries, conservation Reserves and community Reserves comprise four main categories of Protected areas as per wildlife Protection Act 1972. The issue has three main players :- Forest laws and acts ..Lack of in-depth study before enacting forest act where in law making machinery failed to institute means to protect rights of Humans & HAC.

Displacement and rehabilitation Forced/coercive Displacement and unrealistic rehabilitation policy.

The villages which fall on/near protected areas are denceless to routine attacks by wildlife.

The people residing in protected areas prior to enactment of laws were not taken in confidence and majority had been coerced to move out of the area using any means possible.

The territorial animals do not have enough space and their prey does not have enough fodder, resulting in wild animals moving out and venture close to human habitats in search of food. Unable to hunt down wild animals due to old age, sometimes animals tend to hunt domestic animals and attack even men.

Wild animals grazing in agricultural field constitute one of the major causes of crop damage.

According to data from the Union environment ministry, more than 1608 humans (one human killing per day) have been killed In HAC cases between 2013 and 2017. The loss of crops to farmers, human beings getting injured or killed and the insensitive attitude of forest officialsclosing the case with meagre compensation needs to be addressed by government. According to reports, only 0.1 to 8% farmers received compensation between 2009 and 2015, and while over 90% farmers near buffer zones suffered losses.

Farmers are helpless to protect crop damage by wild herbivores, which are protected under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the respective wildlife laws of States. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and 2006 Amendment provide complete protection of the biodiversity but what about Human rights of people affected ?

There have been increased reports of attacks on human by animals in the forests. The forest officials can’t be mute spectator to the loss of human life or property. Government has right to frame laws to protect animals but where is its duty to institute procedure to protect the very people squeezed around the protected areas by enacting animal friendly laws.

Who is the greater victim in this situation? The animals who seek to widen their territory in search of food because their habitats are encroached upon? Or the farmers who feed the world and whose livelihood is completely dependent on agriculture?

To provide a balance of justice, collective action needs to be taken by the government, policymakers, Forest Department, Revenue department, locals, and other stakeholders Indian Forest Act and policies di need reforms and amendments for protecting human rights of affected Human beings.

Col Devanand Lohamarod