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The proposed Karnataka Private Conservancies Rules 2017 set to pave way for private conservation lands adjoining national parks and wildlife sanctuaries has been criticised as an “attempt to circumvent” the Eco-Sensitive Zone regulations.
Contrary to the claims of the government that it would mitigate conflict situations and restore the corridors, it was bound to fragment the habitat and spell doom for wildlife, according to conservationists.
Besides, there are fears that the initiative has been born out of economic and not conservation-related interests and is set to be a major bone of contention and confrontation between the government and conservationists.
Sources said the draft rules facilitate establishing tourist resorts and is in violation of the ESZ stipulations as mandated by the Supreme Court and will also amount to contempt of court.
A wildlife expert on conditions of anonymity told The Hindu that any developmental activity in the corridors will hamper the movement of wildlife and several resorts were earlier stopped by the Forest Department in corridors connecting Bandipur and Mudumalai on the grounds of fragmenting wildlife habitats.
They wondered as to how the government was set to reverse its own argument and could claim that the new private conservancies with tourist facilities, would not fragment the corridors.
“Though it is depicted as helping farmers gain additional income, small and marginal farmers neither have the capacity or investment requirement to set up tourism resorts, develop 10-year management plans, or go through the permission process from the Chief Wildlife Warden,” sources added.
While any construction or non-forestry activity invites the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, the conversion of any forest land for non-forestry purposes needs permission under the Forest Conservation Act as per which does not permit construction of tourism facilities in wooded land.
The proposed plan is also in violation of the High Court of Karnataka order dated October 8, 2013, which had asked for a review of all concessions and leases granted for coffee estates and tourism facilities in the elephant range in order to restore the lands as elephant habitats in a time-bound manner.
What is intriguing is that the plan, including the Acts and rules, has not been put up in public domain for consultation. Among those who own land close to national parks include elected representatives, and there are concerns that it was being mooted to help them.
‘Rules drafted to help tourism projects owned by big firms’
The proposed private conservancies in the State is reckoned to be inspired by the African model but the landscape is entirely different. A private conservancy in Africa may have a land swathe extending to hundreds of sq km and can be manifold bigger in areas compared to some national parks in India. But, private farm in India can at best be a few acres and hence, there are prospects of the national parks swarming with tourist resorts on the outskirts which can be an hindrance to wildlife movement.
Section 8(b) of the proposed draft rule says that not more than 5% of the private conservancy can be utilised for construction of tourism facilities. This clearly depicts that no small or marginal landowners can set up a private conservancy for tourism purposes, as 5% area of a small land parcel is no way sufficient to have any tourism infrastructure facility.
“This point itself is a clear indication that these rules are drafted to help tourism projects owned by big companies, multinationals, and wealthy individuals,” said sources.