K. Praveen Rao IFS (Retd), Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttar Pradesh
Q: Do you think we are taking the right approach to biodiversity conservation?
Biodiversity is a vast subject. Right from microbes to all flora and fauna existing in this world constitute biodiversity. Any action of humans has some reaction on the biodiversity around us. All the management is human-centric hence, any developmental activity has an impact on the biodiversity of that area. Environmental engineering is that aspect that tries to minimize the adverse impact. Something is being done to conserve biodiversity in the form of protected areas and forest conservation, but still much more is to be done for biodiversity conservation.
Q: What are the major threats being faced by mammals and birds in the wild? What steps should be adopted to address them?
Some of the major threats are loss of habitat, hunting, and poaching, encroachments in forest areas, degradation of wetland habitats, etc. The human population is ever-increasing and now we are touching the 1.4 billion mark in India. All of them need food security. Hence the agricultural lands are extending well into the official boundaries of the forest areas, which is the main habitat of wild mammals. Many times, encroachments are regularized by the governments in the name of welfare measures and historical injustice. Sometimes these measures lead to more encroachments. All these reduce the habitat of wild animals and leads to man-animal conflict. The end result is: The animal is always a loser. Either it is declared maneater or it will end up in a zoo. Coming to birds, one of the major threats is the pet trade. Many birds are poached for the pet trade. For checking this, awareness is the only way, and the principle of co-existing with wild animals is the way for conserving them. Ecotourism and bird watching to some extent reduce the conflict. Because the locals are involved and economically benefit from the above activities in the form of homestays, tours, travel operators, hoteliers, guides, etc., they may in turn become the saviors of the wild animals.
Q: Man-Animal conflict is a much talked about subject. But there is hardly any solution. What as per you, is the reason for the same?
I have already answered it in the above question. Some of the solutions according to me can be: 1) We are on the path of development. The government is aiming at a $ 5 trillion economy by 2024 -25. Infrastructure development is on the fast track. Many railway lines and road infrastructure are being built at a record pace. Many a time they disturb forest ecosystems and the biodiversity dependent on them. In such cases circumventing the forest area or at least a flyover in the entire forest tract will reduce the conflict. 2) State and national wetland authorities have been created in most states. All the wetlands to be mapped and enlisted so that unplanned construction in the catchment can be controlled. 3) Animal corridors must be created between the forest patches for easy movement of wild animals. 4) Stricter implementation in letter and spirit of the Wildlife Protection Act and Forest Conservation Act is needed. 5) More potential areas must be declared as protected areas under the wildlife protection act. 6) Wildlife conservation should be introduced as a subject at the primary level of education and the pet trade must be discouraged. 7) Proper buffers between forests and agricultural areas must be maintained.
Q: Climate change is another hot topic but are we actually understanding and taking right steps toward limiting its impact? Is the net zero carbon emission target by 2070 achievable? If so, how?
There are many countries that are developed and have the best infrastructure with them. But ours is a country that was under British rule, who used this country as a raw material producing country, and the rulers built their wealth on the finished good. We still lived in poverty. Now we are on the path of development and wish to see our population leading a respectable life. The developmental activities add to pollution and in turn adversely impact climate. But the government is trying to keep the greenhouse gasses in check and for which many activities are being carried out e.g., almost all the states are going for mega-scale afforestation activities. Recently one of the Indian cities, Hyderabad got the world green city award in 2022. For reducing the use of fossil fuels electric vehicles are being introduced and encouraged with more subsidies. A scrap policy is in place to encourage buying new vehicles with BS6 standards which pollute less. Older incandescent bulbs have been replaced in most cities with LED lamps which consume less power. Encouraging renewable energy like solar power and wind power and so on. Still much is to be done for changing the mindset for achieving the goals by 2070. Let us be positive about the idea of carbon neutrality.
Q: Do you think our wetlands and sanctuaries (biodiversity parks included) being managed the way they should?
Coming to the wetlands, definitely they need more attention. Hon’ble supreme court ordered for listing out all the wetlands and removing the encroachments. For this purpose, wetland authorities have been created. But much more work is needed. Many of the wetlands are encroached for construction activities. As we know there are many benefits of wetlands. They act as buffers for floods and droughts. They are the source of our drinking water needs. They help in maintaining the groundwater table, they fix the pollutants etc., Coming to the sanctuaries and biodiversity parks, they are doing their bit. The tiger population is on the path of recovery. Many state governments are relocating villages to avoid any man-animal conflict and developing grasslands in the vacated lands to provide more space for herbivores. This measure also helps in villagers’ growth, otherwise, the villages inside the forests remain underdeveloped.
Q: What is your advice to the youth that is keen to help in environmental and biodiversity conservation?
It will be always a welcome step that the youth of this country help in environmental and biodiversity conservation. Charity begins at home. If possible, use ecofriendly means of living. Walking and cycling as part of our daily routine. Use water bottle instead of pet bottles. Public transport in place of private transport. Use electricity judiciously. Undertake nature walks and bird walks as hobby which will inculcate love towards nature. Plant a sapling, but more important is to protect it for at least one complete year. Use electronic mode of communication in place of paper. Use renewable sources of energy whenever possible. Discourage pet trade and keeping wild pets like parrots at home. Whenever there is man-animal conflict, like leopards entering in to the cities, inform the forest department at the earliest and help them in keeping crowd away. In the event of snakes and other reptiles entering homes, do not harm them, instead inform the forest department. Finally, if you are interested you can join the forest service after competing proper educational qualification so that you can shoulder the responsibility and carry the legacy of biodiversity forward.