Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sorom ase de

On Wednesday, February 14, Kerala Assembly adopt ed a unanimous resolution urging the Union Government to suitably amend the Wildlife Protection Act in order to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. As reported in national dailies, members across the aisle supported the resolution aimed at eliminating wildlife that trespass on human habitation, imperilling the life and property of citizens, destroying crops and preying livestock. “Wildlife intrusions in habitations abutting forests and lethal attacks on residents had impelled the Government to request the Centre to make law more contemporary. The resolution demanded that the Central law empower Chief Forest Conservators to use lethal force to liquidate wild animals that trespass on residential localities and pose an imminent threat to human life. It also requested the Centre to initiate scientific and humane measures to control the wildlife population”, as one report put it. The southern State’s moves come in the backdrop of one person being trampled to death by a wild elephant with radio-collar after the tusker had entered the premises of a house at Mananthavady in Wayanad district of Kerala earlier this month. A week prior, another wild elephant had entered the same town from the Karnataka forest region and triggered panic throughout the day. The elephant died while being trans-located to another place. Contrast the Kerala scenario ~ right from the incidents to the Government’s reaction ~ with Nagaland. You get where we are going with this, eh? For decades, the standard Government-approved response in Nagaland to human-wildlife conflicts has been apathy. Now, the Government has upgraded it from apathy to jokes that are wild and undomesticated ~ both in conception and in delivery. Attempts at triggering meaningful conversation around human-wildlife conflict in Nagaland have been met with barn-door-size shutdowns. Even a Legislator’s questioning of Government apathy in last year’s winter session of NLA was neatly allowed to pass off ~ or as they say in cricketing parlance, the Government shouldered it arms to the Legislator’s inquisition. Ultimately, the metaphorical barn door prevailed. As previously highlighted in this column, human-wildlife conflicts are an annual feature in some parts of the State. Though (fortunately) not all confrontations are fatal, there are always trails of destruction: uprooted paddy, wrecked farm houses and plantations laid to waste. Such venturing of wild animals into human habitat, especially wild elephants, never ends on a cheerful note. Without question, there are balances to be achieved and sustained. While it is evident that continuous human-wildlife conflict is bound to end in disastrous circumstances, it is also worth acknowledging that the burden of conservation mismanagement generally tends to fall on those members of the communities who are deprived of access to economic opportunities. The question should never be about the advantage accorded to one particular aspect at the expense of the other. It is undoubtedly a delicate balance to achieve. Hence, the interest in Kerala Government’s proposal to the Centre, especially the one concerning wild animals trespassing on human habitat. Conservation at the cost of displacing an existing human habitation is not a solution to an ever-increasing crisis. Conflicts between humans and wildlife have been part and parcel of our existence. While it is understood that there can be no permanent solution, we still need to focus on minimising future conflicts. It is worth noting that even the Kerala High Court had on February 13 directed the State’s Additional Chief Secretary, General Administration Department, to file within 10 days a plan detailing the immediate short-term steps that will be taken to prevent the straying of wild animals into human settlements. It ordered that the short-term plan should be one that will be implemented within a month thereafter and will be in addition to the long-term measures suggested by a Committee of Experts (CoE) that will be implemented in a phased manner. The Court passed the order at its special sitting in the wake of the death of a man in a wild elephant attack in Wayanad. All these are biting demonstrations of how far we still have to go in terms of governance ~ in terms of the Government truly governing for the people, and not for themselves.