NATIONAL BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY AND ACTION PLAN

WESTERN GHATS ECOREGION

 

 

Brainstorming /Discussion Meeting for Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry

 

At the Zoological Survey of India (Southern Regional Station.

On September 15, 2000.

(Programme appended)

 

 

Minutes of the meeting

 

The minutes of the meeting are being presented as two sections. Section I presents the outcome of the brainstorming session, which constituted the forenoon session. Section II presents the outcome of the group discussions that followed the brainstorming session.

 

Section I

 

Dr P. T. Cherian, Officer-in-Charge, Zoological Survey of India (Southern Regional Station) welcomed the participants to the meeting. While highlighting the criticality of biodiversity conservation, Dr.Cherian discussed the magnitude of India’s biodiversity with specific reference to the rate of loss of biodiversity and the rate at which new species are added in certain groups of insects. Dr.Cherian said that biodiversity is significantly impacted by a) developmental pressure b) failure of markets c) ineffective implementation of laws d) climate change and e) uncalled-for enthusiasm by certain groups/organisations.

 

Highlighting the Western Ghats as one of the hotspot areas, Dr.Cherian elaborated on the current classification of hotspots. He said that the designated 18 hotspots have since been reclassified and enlarged to accommodate 25, with the Western Ghats currently being merged with Sri Lanka. In this context, he also highlighted the concept of hot-specks – small biodiversity rich areas.

 

While detailing the five criteria that are used in the definition of hotspots, Dr.Cherian emphasised the importance of levels of endemism. He mentioned that if any site supports 0.5% and above of the world’s endemic species, it can qualify as a hotspot. Dr.Cherian concluded by highlighting the role of ZSI in documenting India’s biodiversity.

 

Dr.R.J.R.Daniels explained to the group the mandate and scope of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. He also introduced the background paper on the Western Ghats. Dr.Daniels highlighted the importance of studying even well-researched regions like the Western Ghats by drawing attention to the lack of knowledge even in seemingly well known groups of organisms as mammals. For instance, an estimated 50 species excluding bats and rats inhabit the Western Ghats. Of these, 40% are carnivores – a major cause for human-animal conflicts in the Western Ghats. In fact, in India, excluding the extinct Cheetah, there are at least 15 species of wild cats making it the richest in the world. Such patterns of biodiversity distribution are further reasons for concern in managing animal-human populations in a harmonious fashion. Dr.Daniels concluded his remarks by highlighting the role of ZSI in conservation efforts of the country.

 

Thiru V. Chitrapu in his remarks said that the bulk of the biodiversity in the Western Ghats rests within forests designated as state-owned and under the regime of the respective forest departments. The forest department is an agency that has all the powers to manage these forests. However being a government agency, it is often subject to political pressures.

 

The Forest department continues to be influenced by the utilitarian philosophy of the Colonial times that looked at natural forests as ‘unproductive’. When this became the basis for managing forests, trial and error systems of plantations were attempted – starting with cinchona. When cinchona failed, coffee came in and when the latter failed too, tea was brought in and the cycle continued. This system continued for approximately five decades after independence.

 

Highlighting the need to involve the politicians in conservation movements, Thiru Chitrapu said that politicians at all levels are sensitive to forest/biodiversity issues. However, despite best of intentions, long term planning and implementation in biodiversity conservation is not achieved since the tenure of a politician is only five years.

 

Further, scientists and foresters have failed to impress upon the politicians the priority that is to be accorded to biodiversity conservation; which largely stems from ineffective communication. Most of the discussion meetings as that of the current meeting, are a gathering of ‘already converted’ group and hence fails to make the necessary impact. Politicians across the hierarchy have to be appraised and sensitised to conservation; hence politicians from the level of Chief Ministers to local level taluk and village heads are to be included.

 

Addressing issues of human-animal conflicts, Thiru Chitrapu said that although much rarer than casualties caused by road accidents, isolated incidents of an elephant or tiger attacking a villager or his crops get magnified interfering with conservation efforts. He proposed that a speedy district level relief mechanism be constituted to redress the grievances of people living in the vicinities of forests.

 

Thiru Chitrapu while elaborating on factors affecting biodiversity said that in most instances these are not economically justified. He cited the case of cattle in Masinagudi (Nilgiris) in this regard.

 

He also explained at length the problems confounding areas of high biodiversity such as Gudalur Taluk of the Nilgiris and Kanyakumari district. Both these areas are under pressure from land diversion. Loopholes in existing laws are effectively exploited for these purposes. The legal back-up necessary to counter such instances of land grabbing is weak. Further, while the higher courts are sensitive to issues of environment, lower courts continue to emphasise the human angle. The inordinate delay in settling such cases, often tones down the merit of the case. This could probably be effectively addressed through the relief and monitoring system elaborated earlier.

 

Thiru Chitrapu also mentioned the policy decision of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to phase out the cultivation of exotics. In conclusion, he highlighted the need to involve people and organisations from various walks of life in the NBSAP. He especially stressed the need to involve industries and industrial bodies.

 

Thiru Theodore Baskaran in his remarks stressed on the importance of using local/vernacular language to further the effectiveness of the NBSAP at the micro-level. He also stated that he has independently translated the NBSAP document into Tamil and communicated to the TPCC.

 

Ms. Jayshree Vencatesan elaborated on the strategy that has been developed for the NBSAP Western Ghats Ecoregion. Particular mention was made of holding discussions with industries and industrial bodies in October, and the encouraging response offered by the Confederation of Indian Industry in this regard. She also clarified that involvement and responses at the local level will be assured through meetings and discussions at the level of village/village clusters.

 

Thiru Nathan stressed on the importance of encouraging in situ conservation of crop plants especially minor millets in biodiversity rich areas. He also highlighted the need to protect the protectors of forests – the risks involved, etc.

 

Thiru Soundarrajan of the Nilgiri Wildlife Association (NWA), based on his experience in the Nilgiris stated that translating action plans into ground level realities is rather difficult. He cited the case of cattle farmers in Masinagudi in this regard. In 1983 there were 2000 cattle in Masinagudi which by 2000 has increased to 25,000. Of these only 5000 are licensed and vaccinated. The local tribals who tend these cattle are mere care-takers for absentee landlords. For this task they are paid about Rs.200/week, which is an assured means of income for the income starved tribal communities. The markets that depend on the cattle (dung as manure and beef) bring in the dimension of inter-state management. Therefore, unless humans inhabiting biodiversity rich areas are provided with alternate opportunities for income-generation, issues of conservation cannot be effectively addressed. Thiru Soundarrajan also highlighted the problems caused by recent settlers and encroachments in the Nilgiris.

 

Thiru Krishna Kumar stressed on the importance of prioritising threats in conservation. For instance, tribals of 34 hamlets in Anamalais continue to practice shifting cultivation. Further, their settlements are not delimited.

 

Thiru Krishna Kumar also highlighted the need to focus on conservation outside Protected Areas, by linking in situ and ex situ conservation efforts. The possibility of expanding areas under the PA system was also mentioned.

 

Thiru Krishna Kumar suggested that zoning of threats to conservation based on specific variables such as altitude or geographic distribution be considered for effecting conservation efforts. On the issue of involving and sensitising a larger group, he felt that representatives from the department of higher education should have also been invited to the current meeting.

 

On the issue of management of biodiversity at the district level, he felt that an alternate nodal agency that does not directly involve the District Collector is more feasible. This agency could also serve as an integration point for different line departments.

 

Fr Ignacimuthu to highlight the need to balance development and conservation detailed the Indonesian model of people and protected areas. He also spoke of the need to have institutions like the Kew gardens in India, which would not only provide the most comprehensive database on Biodiversity but also continually engage itself in the task of updating data.

 

Dr Cherian in his comments, said that more than 90% of all vertebrates have been identified and described. Lower forms however continue to be less studied. In this regard, he stressed on the need to equally spread efforts of taxonomy/inventorisation on all groups. He cited the case of 25 institutions working on 212 species of amphibians in India to substantiate his point.

 

Dr K.C. Jayaram in his remarks stated that biodiversity is confined to forests. He stressed on the importance of including estuarine fishes while documenting Western Ghats biodiversity since the region is abound with inlands. The need to involve and include local conservation efforts by people as well as religious institutions was also stressed by Dr. Jayaram using the case of Masheer species. Dr. Jayaram suggested the biodiversity inventorying should be at the level of ecosystems, also highlighting the potential the ecosystem offers for further research.

 

Dr Muralirangan who has been studying grasshoppers since 1965, highlighted inadequacy in taxonomic capabilities, funding and coordination amongst lead departments. He also mentioned the non-cooperation of the Forest Department in issuing permits. Dr. Muralirangan also called for identifying institutes with specific capabilities within biodiversity research.

 

Dr. S. K. Padmanabhan explained the efforts of the department of Animal Husbandry in biodiversity conservation. He stated that under the Western Ghats Development Programme, it has been proposed to train 300 farmers for 15 days every year in subjects such as stall-feeding etc. These trainees would be paid a monthly stipend of Rs 650. Further, 132 calf-distribution stalls, two mobile vaccination units and one regional laboratory are being set up.

 

Dr Annamalai highlighted the importance of addressing biodiversity conservation at the level of ecosystems, with specific reference to agro-biodiversity and medicinal plants. He also detailed the role of Forest Rangers College in studying flora and fauna listed in the Red Data Books.

 

On the issue of managing biodiversity, Dr.Annamalai felt that site-specific strategies would enhance the effectiveness of implementation. He also elaborated on the ex-situ conservation efforts such as the Gudalur gene pool. On the issue of involving local people in conservation efforts, Dr.Annamalai felt that the Joint Forest Management project which involved about 800 village communities was a good example.

 

Dr.Rajaram of the Madras Naturalists Society drew attention to Larsen’s study of butterflies in the Nilgiris and stressed the need to subdivide the Western Ghats into various biodiversity/ecological sub-regions/zones.

 

Thiru G. Bala of the Palani Hills Conservation Council spoke of the Council’s work in shola-grasslands management in Kodaikanal/Palnis. Under this programme, fodder and fuel requirements of the local people have been addressed. The PHCC has also been documenting local health traditions over the last few years. He also mentioned that in 1988, a national workshop on eco-development in the Western Ghats was organised by the PHCC.

 

Tmt Kasthuri spoke of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Boards efforts to regulate pollution in hilly areas specially Kodaikanal. She mentioned that two emission control centres have been established in this regard. Tmt Kasthuri while elaborating on other regulatory centres established by the TNPCB stated that while regulation and enforcement has been possible with industries, pollution by residential and domestic waste continues unabated. Tmt. Kasthuri also stressed on strict enforcement procedures as effective means of addressing conservation

 

Dr. Venkatasubramaniam highlighted the need to expand the list of endangered and endemic species, which are currently based only on herbarium collections. He suggested that there should be an overall increase in field studies, through which distribution maps of endemic species can be generated.

 

Dr.Venkatasubramaniam also highlighted the inadequate taxonomic expertise in India. In addition funding opportunities for taxonomic studies is not available readily. For instance, the Botanical Survey of India is still in the process of completing the Flora of India project.

 

Dr. Grard highlighted the French Institute’s effort in vegetation mapping of the Western Ghats over the last twenty years. He stated that the Institute has also developed an atlas of endangered plants of the Western ghats. To facilitate easy dissemination and use the atlas is currently available as a Compact Disc, and can also be downloaded from the Institute’s web page.

 

Recent research initiatives at the Institute include development of computer- aided- species identification. Dr. Grard also said that funds could be sought for conservation efforts from the French Environment Facility.

 

Mr. Ahimaz in his remarks stated that the group has to deliberate specifically on threats in the Western Ghats rather than problems at large, although the merit of each of these is beyond question. He detailed the cases of wildlife corridors in Kallar, Masinagudi, Valparai and cattle problems in Sigur plateau as examples.

 

Dr.Christopher spoke of the efforts of the Madras Christian College in creating an arboretum of rare plants from the Western Ghats. He also detailed the ethno-botanical studies that are being conducted by the college especially in Kanyakumari district. Dr. Christopher also stressed on the need to map and monitor habitat fragments in relation to the home ranges of animals.

 

Dr.Sundaramurthy emphasised the need to increase training and awareness programmes at all levels. He also reiterated the statement of the earlier speakers to accord greater priority to the use of local languages.

 

Dr. Sundaramurthy also recalled the rather weak response encountered by the BNHS when it tried to sensitise politicians through a workshop organised at New Delhi in the eighties.

 

Dr. Kalaiarasan highlighted the inadequacy of data in specific groups of animals such as the reptiles. He suggested that a database on the reptiles of the Western Ghats could be one concrete output of the current endeavour.

 

Dr.Rajaram and Mr. Sudhakar suggested that efforts should also be initiated to genetically map the biodiversity of Western Ghats.

 

Mr. Manimozhi highlighted the fact that the issue of inbreeding due to forest fragmentation is to be addressed.

 

Dr. Thirumalai highlighted that biodiversity is not just numbers, but the quality is more important. He also stressed upon the need to address the issue of sustainability in this context.

 

 

Section II

 

Based on the points/remarks made in the brainstorming session, two broad sets of issues were identified for the group discussions. They are as follows:

 

Group A

Group B

 

  1. Issue of cattle
  2. Problem of introduced species
  3. Issue of language and style of presentation
  4. Landscape based issues
  5. Increasing the scope of PAs
  6. Enlarging the scope of Red Data Book
  7. Animal Corridors esp.inter-state cooperation
  8. Smuggling, poaching and infiltration
  9. Strengthening the research base
  1. Human-animal conflict
  2. Relief mechanisms
  3. Land tenure
  4. Development of resorts
  5. Conservation outside PAs
  6. Continuing inventorisation
  7. Ngo-Govt interaction
  8. Identification of institutions for basic and applied research

 

Issues enumerated as Group A was discussed in a group comprising the following members: Thiru L. Nadhan, Dr.Sundaramurthy, Prof. Annamalai, Mr.Preston Ahimaz, Mr.A.Manimozhi, Dr.C.Venkataraman, Mr.P.Asaithambi, Dr.S.K. Padmanabhan, Dr. N. Venkatasubramaniam and Mr.Soundarrajan. The group was chaired by Fr.Ignacimuthu S.J.

 

 

The following was the outcome of the deliberations:

 

Issue

Outcome

 

Cattle

  • Biggest menace in Protected or Reserved Forest Areas
  • Source of manure and meat – not only in the near vicinity but also transcends state borders
  • Vectors of diseases
  • Despite being highlighted as a problem by government departments and NGOs, of no avail due to the vulnerability of tribals
  • Possible means of addressing the problem:

Cattle insurance, subsidised stall feeding, encouraging the holding of milch cattle, vaccination, provision of demarcated areas for grazing

Problems of introduced species

  • Removal of commercial plantations to save sholas and grasslands
  • Discourage planting of exotics on grass slopes
  • Encourage mixed plantations of native species
  • Limit exotic plantations to the fringes of habitation zones to meet the fuel demand of the villagers

Use of local languages / style of presentation

  • Preparation of adequate reading material in local languages
  • Encourage local youth to take up conservation issues
  • Train such youth in participatory approaches
  • Use local/folk media such as street plays, villupatu for dissemination
  • Use the medium of television effectively – if possible, use film personalities
  • Include biodiversity in the curriculum at school and college levels

Landscape based issues

  • Forest land under various other departments of the Government to be brought under the purview of the Forest Department
  • Management plans to be developed and implemented based on landscape features
  • Stringent prevention of encroachment and dumping of wastes in wetlands
  • Village greens and temple forests to be managed by the village councils or panchayats

Increasing the scope of PAs

  • Area under PA, NP and sanctuaries to be increased; legal problems arising from this to be tackled by the DoEN
  • Site-specific protection strategies to be evolved
  • Propose a state-facility for conservation on the lines of Kew Gardens

Increasing the scope of Red Data Book

  • The Indian Red Data book has a number of species from Tamil Nadu
  • Revise the list of species under the category ‘endangered’
  • Biotechnological methods to preserve endangered species to be encouraged
  • Include commercial trees such as sandalwood under threatened status

Animal Corridors

  • Animal corridors to be preserved as they are
  • No commercial activity to be allowed in these areas
  • Private lands falling within the corridors to be acquired by the State
  • Cultivation of palatable species along the corridors to be taken up
  • All encroachments, irrespective of stature to be removed along the corridors

Smuggling and Poaching

  • State to assume a more active role
  • Strict and deterrent punishment to smugglers and poachers
  • Increase of personnel to deter nefarious activities
  • Providing suitable compensation to the affected communities or individuals
  • Strengthening of legal systems
  • Encouraging and motivating personnel through recognition, incentives, awards

Strengthening the research base

  • Provision of adequate funding for basic research in biodiversity to be earmarked
  • Research positions in PAs, NP and other ex situ areas to be
  • Constituted
  • Priority areas of research identified and encouraged
  • Recognise and involve the capabilities of senior scientists and other knowledgeable persons
  • Capacity building in taxonomy to be initiated

Institutions

  • Enumeration of all institutions in South India.

 

 

Group B was jointly chaired by Dr. K.C.Jayaram and Dr. Muralirangan. The following members constituted the group: Dr. V. Kalaiarasan, Mr.G.Bala, Tmt. B. Kasthuri, Dr.Joel Christopher, Dr. P. T. Cherian, Dr. P. Grard and Ms.Jayshree Vencatesan. The following table summarises the proceedings of Group B.

 

Issue

Outcome

Human-animal conflict

 

 

 

 

  • The issue can be effectively addressed through a combination of a) education and awareness where needed b) strict enforcement of law and c) related training programmes on stall-feeding etc.
  • The institutional backup needed such as vaccination, insurance etc, also to be provided

Relief mechanisms

  • An independent authority (possibly as a special squad) at the level of each district to be constituted. The squad be constituted by members drawn from various departments as well as village councils. Relief measures to be speedily addressed and implemented. Such measures could also include provision of fuel wood and fodder

Land tenure

 

  • Diversion of forest land for any purpose to be banned.
  • No part of the remaining forest land in the Western Ghats be diverted for any purpose

 

Development of resorts

Conservation outside Pas

  • Development of new resorts to be prevented and provisions of expansion and /or modification in the existing resorts deterred
  • Private holdings (if small) to be acquired. Large land holdings by industries to be strictly regulated
  • Conservation efforts in private lands to be assessed and recognised

Inventorisation

  • Inventorisation to cover all organisms and taken up at the level of ecosystem. Areas not yet studied to be identified and considered for study on priority

  • Integrate ongoing programmes of invetorisation such as Lifescape and Wghats network into the overall efforts of documentation

 

NGO-Govt Interaction

  • On mutually defined and agreeable basis
  • Capabilities and expertise to be duly recognised and interaction defined in accordance
  • Expertise available with the NGOs to be supported

Identification of institutions for basic and applied research

  • A database of all institutions involved in basic and applied research be developed as part of the current NBSAP-Wghats Ecoregion programme

 

The meeting concluded with Dr.R.J.R. Daniels thanking all the participants.