Towards Sustainability: Stories from India 24 7 Saving a Sanctuary A media campaign puts biodiversity in the headlines The Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary, located in Kachchh district of Gujarat in western India, is remarkable for the floral and faunal diversity it supports. It has a mixed forest system comprising of dry savannah, desert thorn, tropical euphorbia, scrub, etc. Notified as a Sanctuary in 1981, the variety of wildlife includes chinkara, caracal, desert cat, Indian wolf, pangolin, great Indian bustard and the peafowl. The Sanctuary is especially important for chinkara, which has been declared as a protected species. All was well in the Sanctuary until a Gujarat state government order dated July 27, 1993 denotified the Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary, canceling the earlier notification of 1981 that had declared it a wildlife sanctuary. The order reduced the area of the Sanctuary from 765.79 sq. kms to a mere 94.87 sq. kms, which was one-eighth of the original size, with a comment that the area was “substantially in excess of the requirements of a Sanctuary”. Following the denotification order, a lease was to be granted to a cement company for open-cast mining in 2,000 hectares of land inside the erstwhile Sanctuary. Limestone mining generally results in the release of large clouds of dust. In the arid region of Kachchh, these dust clouds would have harmful effects on both vegetation and wildlife. The limestone dust would condense in the cool nights, and settle on the leaves. This could prove disastrous for the forests in the vicinity.   The denotification would have gone unnoticed but for the timely initiative by Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad. CEE was instrumental in bringing the whole issue to public notice the day after the proposed denotification was announced, by flashing the news in a leading newspaper in a piece titled Unmaking a Sanctuary.   The article highlighted the opening up of the area to limestone mining to feed  the cement factories coming up in the area. It also highlighted the likely impact on the fragile ecosystem of the Sanctuary. The article brought to light the fact that the denotification was objectionable under Section 26A of the Wildlife Act which does not permit the alteration Sustained Media Campaign Protected Areas Network India has a large network of Protected Areas (PAs) including national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. These protected areas are vital to the conservation of the biological diversity of the country. Not only are they valuable heritage assets, but they also play an important role in protecting watersheds and coastlines, providing livelihoods and encouraging conservation. In the 1980’s, the Wildlife Institute of India provided a unique framework of conservation planning which analysed the existing protected area network scientifically, and identified the inadequacies and gaps in the coverage. The framework divided the country into ten zones: trans-Himalaya, Himalaya, desert, semi-arid, Western Ghats, Deccan peninsula, Gangetic plain, coasts, northeast, and the islands, with 26 identified biotic provinces within them. From a mere 3.34 per cent of the country’s total geographical area, the Protected Area network has grown to attain the present status of 4.70 per cent in just 14 years.
Democratic Debate enabled by Free Press and Activist Groups 25 of the boundary of a Sanctuary without legislative sanction. One of the petitions filed soon after challenged the legality of the government’s move on this very basis. Subsequent articles also highlighted the fact that the state government notification appeared to be ultra vires—clearly outside its legal authority as per provisions of the Wildlife Act. These articles focussed on how the process of law was being flouted, and how health and safety of common citizens and the pristine environment of a Sanctuary were being threatened by such a move. This helped the issue to gain wide recognition and support from the target population. Following this, a press campaign was initiated by Centre for Environment Education’s News and Features Services (CEE–NFS). This reportage  attracted a number of petitions filed by concerned citizens challenging the denotification. CEE- NFS provided legal analysis on the progress of court actions. Later on, it networked with the Consumer Education Research Society, an NGO involved with consumer and environmental protection through the use of media, research and law. The campaign soon started picking up. A Public Interest Litigation filed by an eminent naturalist  Lavkumar Khacher challenged the move to dereserve the forest area on the ground that it was illegal to do so without the Central Government’s clearance. The petitioner withdrew the case when the Secretary, Forest Department, stated in the court that no Reserve forest would be dereserved without following the due course of law. But what was not very obvious in the process was the fact that no such protection is provided to non-reserved land which forms a substantial part of the original Narayan Sarovar sanctuary.   Meanwhile the sustained media campaign continued to garner public opinion against the denotification and also brought to focus new legal aspects. Several newspapers covered the issue over the next few months. One of the important strategies of the campaign was to highlight the problem as one requiring immediate attention, rather than relating to a distant future. The campaign was able to keep the issue alive by keeping track of the political and legal drama that surrounded this clash of commercial, developmental and conservation interests. Another key strategy adopted during the campaign was to focus on legal aspects. In an article published exactly after one month of the notification, i.e. on 27 August, the various legal issues which would assist in cancelling this denotification were reviewed. The article mentioned the Forest Conservation Rule 5.2 which lays down that any land which forms part of a wildlife sanctuary or part of the habitat of any threatened species of flora and fauna, may not be used for non-forest purposes. Right to Information Recognizing that access to information is the key to fair and sustainable development, governments both at the Central and State level have been working towards providing greater transparency and information access. Right to Information laws have been enacted by the states of Tamil Nadu, Goa and Madhya Pradesh. The Madhya Pradesh government has passed a series of orders in several government departments, giving the right to information to the people. In Rajasthan, following the long and consistent struggle of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (Workers, Farmers, Strength Association), a non-government organization, the government has enacted a notification under the Panchayat Act allowing people to inspect documents of the Panchayats, and even to take photocopies. At the Central level, a governmental Working Group on the Right to Information was appointed in January 1997. This Working Group has drafted a Bill on the Freedom of Information. The Bill requires government agencies to maintain an index of records and to publish information relating to their functions, procedures, and performance regularly.   In addition, agencies are expected to circulate the name of their public information officers and the location where documents can be viewed by interested citizens.  The Bill requires agencies to provide access to requested information within 30 days of application. An extension of another 30 days is permissible for reasons to be clearly spelt out to the requester.  When this Bill is passed, a Central legislation would also do away with the anomaly of a situation where a person cannot have the same rights of access to information in another part of the country where such a law has not been enacted.
Towards Sustainability: Stories from India 26 Another PIL filed during the period by the Consumer Education Research Centre (CERC), Ahmedabad challenged the legality of the denotification under Section 48A of the Constitution which makes it the duty of the state to preserve the environment, as also Section 26A of the Wildlife Act. In March 1995, the Gujarat High Court, acting on the petition by CERC, declared the denotification ultra vires. The Court order cancelled the denotification on the ground that it ignored the Wildlife Protection Act, which requires the approval of the state legislature before the boundaries of a Sanctuary can be altered. But on 27 July 1995, the State Government approached the Legislative Assembly for passing the denotification.  Although the ruling party in power at the time was the one which had earlier opposed the denotification, their agenda had changed after they came to power. The government, led by the party, pushed the denotification process through the Assembly. However, for the first time there was dissent on the floor of the House, as independent members protested against the disregard for conservation that this move reflected. The legislative assembly passed the denotification; however the land area that now remained protected as sanctuary area was 444 sq. km.which was considerably more than the 94 sq. km. area that the original denotification would have left. This decision of the government indicates the will of the government to consider that development and environmental conservation concerns can go hand in hand. A Battle Half-Won Down to Earth In the early 1990s, after the Earth Summit, media coverage of environmental issues increased rapidly. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based NGO  working to raise awareness about  environment and development issues, felt that while these issues did get media coverage, the process of reporting was, by and large, event-oriented, and lacked depth and analysis. It also strongly felt that grassroots efforts were not given adequate coverage. To fill this gap, CSE, in May 1992, launched a science and environment fortnightly magazine named Down to Earth. The magazine attempts to cover the latest developments in the fields of environment, science and technology. The range of issues includes those which affect development and sustainability—environment, energy, health, population, forestry, pollution, habitat degradation, wildlife management, water management, traditional knowledge, women, tribal communities, nomads and other marginalized groups, agriculture and animal care, community participation, legal and financial institutions and others. Since its launch in May 1992, the magazine has covered national as well as international issues related to science, environment and development at the macro-level, and documented innovative efforts at the grassroots. It continues in its mission to bring all this information to the policy makers, and to the public, quickly and accurately. Dalai Lama We share the earth not only with our fellow human beings but also with all other creatures.