Much to the dismay of policy makers and environmentalists alike, poaching continues to occur in India. Under law, poaching refers to the illegal shooting, trapping, or taking of game, fish, or plants from private property or from a place where such practices are specially reserved or forbidden. This practice has led to a loss of biodiversity in our country and is a concern for all. With the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been reports of increased poaching activities across the country. Many reasons have been attributed to this, including loss of employment due to the pandemic which made many people turn to hunting and poaching wild animals to sustain themselves.
Background of the issue
Tiger poaching is on the rise again as tourist activities have come to a halt in many states. This has given poachers an opportunity to hunt wildlife as forest security has also become lax. Poaching is a lucrative trade and allows people to earn a substantial amount of money. Along with poaching, animals also face other threats in our country such as loss of habitat, accidental deaths and conflicts with people living in nearby areas.
During colonial times, the Indian Forest Act of 1878 was passed. This restricted the forest communities from accessing forest resources. Forest dwellers felt alienated from policy making and the administration, and hence their incentive to protect the forest was reduced. The Indian Forest Act of 1927 further separated the forest communities from accessing the forest. In recent times, the approach has somewhat changed and it is recognised that the tribes and communities living near the forests should have access to its resources.
For example, the Forest Rights Act of 2006, asked the government to give back the rights of forest to the communities. However, we know that there have been several problems with this. In 2019, the Supreme Court rejected the rights of forest dwellers on forest land. Section 6 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 shows a multi-layered and hierarchical procedure for recognition or rejection of forest-dweller claims starting at the Gram Sabha level with multiple appellate committees at the state-level.
The Terracotta Approach
This is where the Terracotta approach to environmentalism can be useful. For the longest time, the green approach has been adopted where the environment was supposed to be left as it is, and human action was to be separated from it, so that the environment can be protected. However, this approach has not been successful as it alienated humans from the environment that they are so intrinsically part of. An alternative approach to this is the Terracotta approach, where the intricate relationship between humans and the environment is recognized. It is focused on realigning and restructuring human incentives.
There have been examples from all over the world as to how the Terracotta approach has proven to be successful. For example, trophy hunting is a practice where animals are hunted for sport and are considered as a prized possession for the hunters. Unregulated, trophy hunting can lead to animals getting killed at a faster rate than ever. However, ironically legalised trophy hunting in Pakistan has
resulted in the conservation of the Markhor mountain goat. Thirty-eight Village Conservation Communities have been given the responsibility to protect the Markhor goat, which has led to an increase in their population.
In India too, places where local communities are directly involved in animal protection have fared much better than those where communities have been kept separated from them. In Madhya Pradesh, youths belonging to the Pardhi community used to engage in poaching due to lack of employment opportunities. However, in recent years, they have turned to contributing to the eco tourism activities of the area by becoming forest and tourist guides at the Panna Tiger Reserve. These kinds of initiatives have also been successful in Kerala’s Periyar Reserve, where Vidiyal Vanapathukappu Sangam, India’s first eco-development committee composed solely of former poachers and sandalwood smugglers was established. This was done to empower former poachers by giving them alternative means of earning a livelihood.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have lost their jobs in cities and have returned to their hometowns. Due to lack of proper employment opportunities, many have returned to poaching and killing animals in order to sustain their livelihoods. The Terracotta approach can prove to be useful in this regard. Policy makers can provide incentives to protect wildlife and also generate employment for the locals in areas of travel and tourism. Such collaborative efforts of governments, NGOs and local communities can go a long way in protecting the environment and wildlife.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.