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BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION is an absolute imperative. And this was clear to the world in 1992, when it came together to agree on the Convention on Biological Diversity. It was also clear that the conservation of bioresources, particularly its utilisation, required active involvement of local communities; they needed to receive a share of the profits earned from the use of their resources and knowledge. This is the reason the world in 2010 agreed on an instrument, called Nagoya Protocol, for fair and equitable sharing of benefits with communities. But in 2022—30 years since the convention—the global community is still working to update the framework and to recommit for the conservation of flora and fauna. We still do not understand what needs to be done to avert biodiversity extinction and benefit those who conserve it. India has an exemplary record in putting together the legal and administrative framework for biodiversity conservation and to share the benefits of knowledge with communities. But sadly, this is where it stops. In 2002, the country adopted the Biological Diversity Act and put in place an elaborate framework to protect bioresources and to share benefits with traditional knowledge-holders: the National Biodiversity Authority has been established; each state has its own biodiversity board; and each village its biodiversity management committee (BMC). These BMCS are required to prepare people’s biodiversity register and has the powers to impose charges and fines for extraction of resources found in their village. However, Down To Earth’s recent analysis finds that the entire effort to share benefits with communities has been reduced to, at best, a meaningless bureaucratic exercise. We know that the system of access and benefit sharing can work only if the knowledge-holders are recognised; if the traders and manufacturing companies that use their knowledge are held liable for payments, and this payment is then transferred to the community or the knowledge-holders. But we find that no data is available with states—other than a few—on the money received from companies and traders for access and benefit sharing. So, it is not clear if all companies have paid for the use of resources or knowledge, on what basis, and how much. In the case of Irula Cooperative—traditional knowledge holders of the method of collecting snake venom for pharmaceutical products—only one company agreed to pay but even that was not fulfilled. Then, worse, when we contacted state boards for information, we were told that the money received has not been disbursed to communities. The reason is there is no information available about the knowledge-holders. The law provides that if the information is not available, then funds should be spent on conservation in the region where pg. 2 the knowledge-bioresources come from. But state boards told us that the funds are lying unutilised. The people’s biodiversity registers—key to recording information so that benefits can be secured—have been created as per the directions of the National Green Tribunal. And given the speed of this “exercise”—as many as 266,135 registers have been made within two years— the quality of these registers is poor and defeats the very purpose of documentation of biodiversity. Even all this will not add up unless we can resolve how the bioresources in the wild and under strict prohibitory regulations—which do now allow for their cultivation, collection or trade—will be made part of these efforts to conserve resources through their utilisation. In the famous case of the Kani tribals and their knowledge of Arogyapacha, a medicinal plant, this was the fatal flaw. When their knowledge was used to develop a pharmaceutical product, it was agreed that the sales revenue would be shared with the tribals. But then the question was how the plant could be collected—it was found in the wild and on lands under the forest department. The Kani tribals were denied permission to collect or even grow the plant, saying it was endangered. Cases were filed against the tribals for collection and cultivation. So, the entire work to use the traditional knowledge to benefit communities and, through this, build a conservation movement was futile. Today, restrictions on the tribals to go into the forests have increased. This means their younger generations can no longer identify the plant. The uncoded knowledge is being lost. In this way biodiversity will be lost. As the world meets to discuss the next decade of biodiversity conservation, lessons from the past will be critical. Not only do we need to protect bioresources in the wild—in protected areas—but also a vibrant system to capture local and indigenous knowledge and to ensure that people benefit from conservation as well as utilisation of resources. For this, we need voices and experiences from the ground so that policy is smart and informed. Otherwise, policies will be only on paper.


Why heavy rainfall batters south India

This is in reference to the article "Raining for 60 days” (16-31 December, 2021). The effect of the Northeast Monsoon on the three peninsular states of the country was well analysed. Over the past three years, the southern peninsula has been devastated with severe rains during November and December. As a climatologist, I want to share my observations of this trend. Both the southwest and northeast monsoons are whimsical in nature, and their distribution is skewed. The intensity of the northeast monsoon over the past three years was pg. 3 activated and catalysed by a series of cyclones and depressions over the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. There is no doubt that climate change has triggered this heavy rainfall. However, we cannot entirely blame climatic aberrations for floods over the peninsular states. Systematic deforestation and the degradation of forests in the Western Ghats are a major cause for this. Water mismanagement and a lack of rainwater harvesting projects in these states have added to this disaster. Establishing effective rainwater harvesting structures in catchment areas, along with a thorough analysis of rainfall over a long period (50-60 years) will help formulate a model for better parametric assessment. Emerging evidence from scientists calls for proactive mitigation measures to deal with extreme rainfall and other episodic weather events which have a damaging impact, particularly on agriculture.

Pits are necessary

This is in reference to the article "Deep percolation pits in Odisha forests harmful for local flora, fauna, say experts”, published online on April 15, 2022. The view that deep percolation pits have an adverse impact on local species is not completely acceptable. Personally, I favour percolation pits because of the emerging trend of reduced and staggered rainfall, along with poor soil cover. This, of course, does not apply to the hilly areas, where forests are still dense and rainfall more than 3,500 mm, and where the soil is completely covered with bio-waste Indeed, pits could be slightly dangerous for fauna, but not for flora. In fact, 35 per cent of forest area in the state of Odisha is degraded and has thin vegetation with little to none flora and fauna. Our government systems are reluctant when it comes to innovation. The article mentions that the percolation pits are straight-cut. In my opinion, they should be in a flat shape, and their size should also vary depending on the space available in between trees. Root-cutting is not a serious problem, but moisture scarcity evokes concern. Moreover, the dug-out soil should not be left piled up on the ground; land surfaces should be levelled immediately. There will be challenges in measuring the size of pits, payment to contractors for flat pit construction, and land levelling. The forest department is a crucial player for environment conservation, and it should be innovative and flexible in its decisions in these aspects.

Democratize Thermal Comfort

THIS SUMMER, the impact of climate change has become more evident for India, and so does the scale of the challenges ahead. Millions suffered under extreme heatwaves that pg. 4 started unusually early in March, pushing the average temperature of the month to 33.1oC, the warmest in 122 years. Till the first week of June, 17 states and Union territories have recorded heatwaves, with several of them experiencing hotter- and longer-than-theusual hot spell (see ‘The heat is on’, p29). The Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh experienced its first intense heatwave since 1970, as per EnviStats 2022, an annual report by the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Data with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) shows that the state has since March experienced third highest days of heatwaves, after Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Such events, once considered freakish, are going to become commonplace as heatwaves become more frequent and can be 25 times longer in the coming decades, between 2036 and 2065, warns the G20 Climate Risk Atlas for India, released in 2021. While extreme heat beyond 35 o C can lead to serious health problems, its effects get compounded when relative humidity also increases. In a hot weather, our body works to maintain tolerable temperature by sweating. But if it is humid, the sweat cannot evaporate as quickly, crippling the body’s cooling method. This adds to thermal stress and can cause medical emergencies. The International Labour Organization warns that millions of jobs can be lost due to heat stress. Heatwave, which IMD defines as a condition when the maximum air temperature departure is 4.5oC or more from normal and can last for several days, can increase the risk of fatality. An analysis of the National Crime Research Bureau data on the ACCIdental deaths in India by the Urban Lab of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi shows that heatwaves have killed more than 20,000 people in the past 20 years. This is second to the death toll caused by lightning among hazard-linked deaths. The most brutal impact of heatwaves is felt in cities, where the high density of buildings, asphalt and concrete, and minimal vegetation create extra sweltering “heat islands”. Waste heat from air conditioners, exhaust from vehicles and industrial processes and reflected heat from glazed fagades compound the effect. This makes urban areas 4-12oC warmer than the surrounding areas with green cover. Delhi, for instance, experiences 2.3 times more days of heatwaves than the rural areas around it, estimates the National Institute of Urban Affairs. A 2020 study by the Indian Institute of Technology (iii) Delhi says South East and Central districts of the national capital have nine heat islands each. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in its guide “Beating the Heat: A Sustainable Cooling Handbook for Cities”, published in 2021, warns that by 2100, cities worldwide could warm up by 4°C on average— more than double the 1.5°C goal set under the Paris Agreement—because of heat-island effect. Heat stress thus has an enormous energy cost and environmental consequences. A 2015 estimate by niti Aayog, think tank of the Union government, shows that because of pg. 5 sweltering heat urban areas will see an increased penetration of air conditioners: from 1 per 100 persons to 15 per 100 persons by 2047. This will drive up the demand for electricity sevenfold by 2032. In fact, the residential sector will overtake the industrial sector in terms of electricity demand. Cooling’s contribution to peak electricity demand in cities will rise further with the increase in heat index. In 2019, CSE’s Urban Lab studied Delhi’s electricity consumption pattern between 2010 and 2018, and found an explosive growth in its electricity demand whenever heat index crossed 31-32 o C (see ‘Growing discomfort’, p31). The stakes are far higher as more and more people are now migrating to cities— India’s urban population will double to 877 million between 2018 and 2050, estimates a 2018 report by the UN— and temperatures are rising.


FOR MORE than a decade, women of Bohal, Odi and Mandai villages in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi district have protected the forest spring in their area, a vital source of water not just to the villages but also to the nearby town of Palampur. In 2010, they signed a 20- year agreement with the Palampur Municipal Council to protect the springshed by curbing excess grazing and by undertaking soil conservation efforts to check land degradation and allow rainwater to properly recharge the spring. In return, they received an annual payment of Rs. 10,000 from the council and tapped water for their households. This was India’s first payment for ecosystem services agreement. It gives the people of the villages a sense of water and economic security, and assures the council of better water supply for two decades. It also brings forth the need to conserve forest springs. The Union government thinktank niti Aayog estimates that some 60 per cent of population in the hilly regions depends on springs from Himalayan forests for sustenance, livelihoods and ecotourism. According to a 2010 study in the journal Science, these springs and surface run- off contribute 57-87 per cent to the river flow that caters to the hills and plains of Punjab along with Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal—major agriculture producers— and other states in the Ganga basin. Despite such dependence on forest springs, their conservation has remained a small part of forest protection mandate with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the state forest departments. As part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 100-day plan launched on July 5, 2019 at the start of his second term, the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti did begin implementing one of the six planned programmes for the rejuvenation of Himalayan springs, but coordinated results are awaited beyond mapping of springs in pilot districts.


Apart from broad policy initiatives, ground-level efforts to conserve forest springs by involving local communities and administrations, as seen in Himachal Pradesh, can bring about a holistic change. One way to induce a multi-stakeholder effort is by introducing incentivebased mechanisms to share forest management plans with other sectors. In environmental management, incentive-based mechanisms are used to encourage entities to reduce pollution. But incentives can also foster positive change in the behaviour of service providers. For instance, in July 2019, at the first Conclave of the Himalayan States, all nine states in this region put forth a proposal asking the Union government to give them financial compensation or a “green bonus” to forego infrastructural development and for maintaining their forest cover. The Centre can introduce such a bonus with specific criteria for springshed management, rather than a maintenance of forest cover. Incentive-based mechanisms can also be used to coalesce institutional efforts and expand their scope. At the Central level, ministries dealing with agriculture and industries can create resources to incentivise springshed conservation efforts by the Union environment and water resources ministries. Similarly, at the state level, chief secretaries of all departments can pool resources to work for forest conservation. The same consortium can direct district administrations to pool resources from line departments, private sector, municipal corporations, schools and hotels to support divisional forest management plans. Humanpower can be roped in under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 for ground-level support. At the village level, women groups, like the one in Himachal Pradesh, can be incentivised to spearhead conservation efforts. This could also bring forth solutions for forest conservation and create jobs, curbing migration from the hills. The private sector can go beyond its corporate social responsibility initiatives, by ensuring recharge of springs and other water sources they use.


Proper recharge of springs cannot just ensure continuous piped water supply, but also reduce expenses and carbon footprints involved in lift water schemes wherein water is pumped from rivers, lowering bills for suppliers and end-users. This incentivises greater public participation. In August 2018, niti Aayog released a working paper proposing a national programme on springshed management in the Himalayan region. It includes strategies at the Central, state and local administration levels to identify and safeguard springsheds with public participation. At a time when value derived from forest ecosystem services is reduced to calculations in clearance projects and in tree-planting initiatives, such pg. 7 efforts can ensure benefits for Himalayan states and the communities without sacrificing conservation or development


THE SUCCESSFUL live capture of MDT 23, an ailing male tiger at the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, was a daunting task marred by several missteps and challenges. By recounting the operation, I hope to inspire development of a new standard operating procedure for wildlife management. The search for MDT23, believed to be more than 12 years old, was initiated in August 2020 when it killed a woman in Singara, a tribal village in Gudalur block, Nilgiris district. Since then, the forest department kept a check on its movements through camera traps and direct sightings. It roamed 25 km along the border shared by the Mudumalai Tiger reserve and Gudalur forest region. Images showed it was injured, likely due to territorial fights with other tigers. It also appeared to have lost its hunting ability due to advancing age. Since MDT23 was not able to make a territory for itself, it had moved towards the forest fringe areas. From March to September 2021, the tiger killed as many as 22 cattle reared by forest dwelling communities in Mayfield and Devon estates in Gudalur forest areas and occasionally attacked people entering the peripheral forests for grazing cattle or collecting firewood. In July, it was said to have killed a man from Mudukuzhi tribal village, and then another person from Devon two months later. Based on the reports that the animal had become dangerous to human life, on September 24, I issued a "hunting order" for mdt23 under Section 11 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA). WPA defines "hunting" as capturing, immobilising or trapping the animal and specifies that wounding or killing should only occur if the animal cannot be contained, in compliance with the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and other principles. My order, issued as per WPA provision, was thus to capture mdt23 alive in a cage or under anaesthesia. But it was misinterpreted by activists and the media as a "shoot and kill" order. As the miscommunication spread, petitions were filed with different bodies, including NTCA. On October 4, the Madras High Court admitted four cases against the order, to which the forest department filed a counter affidavit. The court's scrutiny added to the pressure. HE ORDER TO HUNT MDT23 CLEARLY STATED THAT IT HAD TO BE CAPTURED ALIVE. HOWEVER, ITS MISINTERPRETATION LED TO WIDESPREAD SCRUTINY AND PRESSURE ON THE OFFICIALS


On the field, the capture of MDT23 was difficult. Search efforts began in Devon and Mayfield estates, where the tiger was last spotted. While tracking the elusive MDT23, officers faced rough terrains, poor visibility due to thick bushes of weeds, unfavourable weather and risks to their lives. Though mdt23 was sighted on a few occasions during the initial six days of the operation near Mayfield and Devan estates, it could not be tranquilised. Soon, we heard it had moved from Gudalur towards Masinagudi forest, also on the fringe area of the tiger reserve. By the end of the month, nearly 100 personnel had become involved in the search, including staff and anti-poaching watchers from the parts of the Gudalur area in Kerala. The multiplicity of teams was bound to result in confusion. First, no single team was in charge; everyone was directing each other. Neither had a proper control room been set up for coordination, nor was there any dynamic, day-to-day planning and documentation. On the ground, there was no serious attempt to use scientific principles and standardised norms to collect DNA samples; information was assessed on hearsay and personal judgement. Even field kits, such as tape, markers, rope, torch, range finders or GPS devices, were not carried, let alone resources such as sniffer dogs, tranquilising guns, drones, camera traps or body armour. Teams on search trips made a lot of noise, scaring away animals. Moreover, there was no officer working with local communities or briefing the media. An incident on October 1 brought more scrutiny on the operation. That afternoon, a cattle- grazer in Masinagudi was killed by a tiger identified as MDT23. It resulted in agitations among the local communities and politicians, with demand mounting for shooting the tiger. Given the socio-political situation, it was feared that people might poison the tiger. A few individuals claiming An incident on October 1 brought more scrutiny on the operation. That afternoon, a cattle-grazer in Masinagudi was killed by a tiger identified as MDT23. It resulted in agitations among the local communities and politicians, with demand mounting for shooting the tiger. Given the socio-political situation, it was feared that people might poison the tiger. A few individuals claiming


To ensure that the orders were not stretched to actually shoot the tiger, as was the case in separate operations to capture big cats in 2014-16, there was a need to reorganise the operation following scientific methodologies. After establishing the forest department's command, I deployed additional camera traps, highresolution drones with thermal cameras, sniffer dog squads and three kumki elephants (trained Asian elephants) to guide us. Five-six veterinarians were on standby and a protocol was set: at 8 am each day images from camera traps were analysed and suspected areas were combed by teams and drones until 6 pg. 9 pm These measures brought us close to the tiger on two occasions. The first time, on October 4, it was near a water stream in the Singara forest, 7 km from Masinagudi. Eight days later, we received reports of a cow killed in Moyar, 10 km from Masinagudi, allegedly by m d t23. Though cameras were placed there for monitoring, no images of m d t23 were recorded on subsequent days. We scaled down the deployment of sniffer dogs as their barks were alerting the tiger. On the evening of October 14, MDT23 was spotted as close as 5 km from Masinagudi. The team was to monitor its movements through the night. But in a bout of impatience, officers attempted to tranquilise it. This was against the order and NTCA guidelines; it risked losing track of the animal in the dark and opened officers to an attack. On October 15, some 21 days after the operation began, MDT23 was tranquilised 3 km from the Masinagudi checkpost with the help of drones. News of the capture spread like wildfire. On the scene, even while veterinarians were examining and preparing to treat the tiger, several officers were roaming about and mediapersons and the public were trying to get a closer look. This led to commotion and added to our detainee's distress. I had to intervene to ensure that the capture could be documented properly and the medical samples were collected. Eventually, MDT23 was moved to the Chamundi Wild Animals Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Kurgally, Mysuru, Karnataka, for treatment. As of February this year, much of its health has been restored and its aggressive behaviour is in check. The capture of MDT23 will be remembered in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve's history. However, external pressures and scrutiny coupled with mistakes committed on the ground added to its complexities. This incident must serve as a reminder that a proper chain of command, inter-and intra-team coordination, set field protocols and due diligence are important in future such missions, both for the safety of the people involved as well as the wildlife