Thursday, April 18, 2013

Law and the lion

Law and the lion
The Indian Express

Remote laws and blanket bans ill serve the cause of conservation

On Monday, the Supreme Court directed the translocation of Asiatic lions in Gujarat's Gir forest to a "second home" in Madhya Pradesh's Palpur Kuno Sanctuary. Parliamentary legislation is needed, the court also said, to deal exclusively with the preservation and protection of endangered species in the country. A new law may not be a good idea. The conservation project in India has been much too dominated by the language of laws, court orders and bans, and the rote recourse to draconian measures.

The relocation of Gir's lions is, in principle, a good idea. Currently, Gir is home to the entire population of the sub-species, which numbered 411 at last count and is listed as "endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. A second home for the lions would protect the sub-species from being wiped out by an epidemic or a catastrophe. Established in 1975, the Gir reserve has burgeoned to Greater Gir, swallowing up many of the settlements that surrounded it; the rapid increase in numbers had meant that the lion population was straining at the limits of the reserve. Yet, relocation alone may not be the solution. If its tiger reserves are anything to go by, MP's record on poaching leaves much to be desired. In the last six months alone, five tigers were electrocuted in the state, four of them in the famous Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. Only time will tell how the lions of Gir fare in MP, but the problem also is that too many decisions on conservation have been left to court orders. The decision to relocate the Asiatic lions, for instance, could have been the result of a mature consultation between Gujarat and MP. Instead, it has remained a cause for rancour between the two.

Instead of blanket bans and remote laws imposed by the Centre, the cause of conservation would be better served by raising public awareness, giving local populations stakes in the project, closer monitoring by state governments and an enlightened consultation between them.

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