Kanha shows the way in forest conservation

THE HINDU [2 JULY, 2001]
By Lalit Shastri

KANHA (M.P.), JULY 1: The Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, which is one of the first reserves in the country where Project Tiger was launched in the early seventies, is today recognised as a perfect habitat for tigers and a solid example for conservation initiatives.

What separates the Kanha Tiger Reserve from the general forest areas in other parts of Madhya Pradesh is the fact that the dense Kanha forest known for its rich wildlife, majestic Sal trees and vast stretches of meadows, continue to regenerate at a natural pace and a visitor to this Park is at once overwhelmed by the thick green cover.

However in sharp contrast, the general forest areas of Madhya Pradesh no longer continue to remain living forests due to the encroachment problem, coupled with the ever increasing demand for timber and fuel wood, as well as minor forest produce collection, illegal felling, mining and the menace of manmade forest fires. The undergrowth in these forest areas is missing making the forest ground very hard and when it rains the water swiftly rolls into the rivers carrying with it the top soil. In the process too much of water flows into the rivers in too short a time thereby flooding the rivers. The recurring drought is also a result of this phenomenon.

The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Digvijay Singh, focussed attention on this important aspect while speaking at a special function held here last Wednesday to mark 25 years of Project Tiger. The underlined in categoric terms that forests can be saved only by ensuring livelihood for those who have always lived close to the forests.

People s participation in forest management is a system that has already been put on the rails in Madhya Pradesh but on the other extreme is the proposal being mooted by many of those at the helm of the State Forest department, for opening up the National Parks and tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh for minor forest produce collection as well as for collecting dead wood and removing the fallen trees. These proposals even figured in the agenda that came up before the State Wildlife Board at its meeting held here on Thursday. It is an entirely a different matter that these proposals were not cleared by the Wildlife Board. The Director Project Tiger, Mr. P.K. Sen told The Hindu that the Central Government would never allow the clearance of such proposals.

Mr. Sen also cautioned against encroachments on common properties that have remained the grazing grounds for cattle for centuries in rural areas. It is one single factor that is leading to grazing on forest land, he pointed out.

Visiting village Botal Bahra near Manegaon, which was set up a few years ago to rehabilitate villagers earlier living inside the National Park area, this correspondent saw a huge herd of cattle being driven inside the buffer zone for grazing. I here is one school of thought that supports such grazing practices on the plea that the tribals have always relied on forests for their sustenance and no one can now den) them this right. When asked to join this debate, Mr. H.S. Panwar who has been associated with Kanha for ten years and as especially present to attend the workshop held here to mark 25 years of Project Tiger, told this correspondent that one should not forget. How much forest land has been encroached by the people over the last few decades and that was never inhabited before.

Further he said, we should neither forget tilt fact that all those being rehabilitated outside the forest areas have been adequately compensated. We will have to draw the line somewhere if we want to save whatever now remains of our forest cover, he said expressing his concern.