The 15th Conference of Parties to the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP) starts on Monday at China’s Kunming, mostly a virtual session, where as per the UN officials, governments will “need to commit to repairing our broken relationship with nature.”
But is India repairing the broken relationship or breaking the existing one?
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international, legally binding treaty with three main goals: conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. India is a signatory to the CBD and hence, liable to implement the strategic targets set under the convention.
From time to time, national reports are sent to the CBD secretariat about the progress on different counts. The 2018 sixth national report by India claimed that India is “on track” to achieve the biodiversity targets. “Over 20 per cent of India’s total geographical area is under biodiversity conservation and India has exceeded in achieving the terrestrial component of 17 per cent of Aichi target 11 and 20 per cent of the National Biodiversity Targets (NBT) 6.”
For implementation of Aichi Targets, the signatory country had to submit national targets based on the legal framework of their country. Also, India adopted 12 NBT under the Convention.
“However, this appears to be far from the truth,” said Associate Analyst with the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), Tanvi Sharma.
An analysis by LIFE has calculated that currently India’s geographical area under protected areas is 1,71,921 sq kms under 981 protected areas, including 104 National Parks, 566 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 97 Conservation Reserves and 214 Community Reserves. This is only 5.03 per cent of the geographical area of India.
“Approvals have been granted to remove the protected area status of large land areas. In two cases this year, entire sanctuaries were approved to be de-notified. Large chunks of protected area land and biodiversity rich migratory wildlife habitats were diverted for infrastructure projects every year,” Sharma said.
The LIFE analysed the decisions of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which it said, “was found to be using its discretion to allow or reject proposals, in diverting protected area land for the reasons that does not benefit the wildlife, instead detriment crucial wildlife habitats.”
The LIFE analysis found out that between January to June 2021, the Standing Committee approved 1,385.34 ha land diversion, where 302.89 ha was from protected areas and 780.24 ha was from tiger habitats. The Committee also allowed complete de-notification of two protected areas in Andaman and Nicobar Islands — Galathea Bay Sanctuary and Megapode Sanctuary and approved rationalizations of two sanctuaries — Saltwater Crocodile Sanctuary in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Bandh Baretha Sanctuary in Rajasthan.
Pointing out that despite such large-scale diversions approved every year, our international commitments towards achieving the goals under the Convention on Biological Diversity are claimed to be on track, Sharma said, “A strategic decisiveness was observed in the functioning of the Standing Committee, which focused on speeding and diluting the process of clearance for ease in clearing projects, neglecting some keystone species at stake such as leatherback turtles, saltwater crocodiles, megapodes and of course tigers and elephants.”
The Standing Committee of the NBWL considered a total of 62 proposals in four meetings, out of which 29 proposals were for diversion within protected areas. A total of 302.89 hectares (ha) were diverted under 29 proposals from wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and conservation reserves; no proposal was rejected.
Approvals were given for complete de-notification of two protected areas in Andaman and Nicobar Islands while two more approvals were given for ‘rationalization’ of Saltwater Crocodile Sanctuary in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Bandh Baretha Sanctuary in Rajasthan. The four approvals affect a total of 13855.784 ha, the analysis stated.
“Among all the projects considered, as much as 87 per cent of diversion is due to linear projects (transmission lines, roads, railways and pipelines). A total of 386.137 ha was approved for diversion from Eco-Sensitive Zones, of which 100.47 ha is forest land and the rest 285.662 ha is non-forest land. Also, important is that 780.2418 ha were approved for diversion within tiger habitats for linear projects and infrastructure development,” the LIFE analysis said.
“India being a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, is under the legal obligation to fulfil the targets decided under this Convention. However, the fact is that the protected area land is lost every year due to the decisions taken by the Standing Committee of NBWL without comprehending the adverse effects of their decisions on the ecosystems associated with the project,” Sharma added.