‘Hindustan Times’ Misses Two Big Additions to National Wildlife Action Plan

The Hindustan Times editorial “There are no innovative ideas in the MoEF’s new action plan”, published on October 6, 2017 (print edition October 7), says that the National Wildlife Action Plan (2017-31), released on October 2, does not have any innovative ideas and that “[n]one of the recommendations are new”. The premise of the  editorial is wrong. Even a cursory glance shows what is different about the new plan.

The Facts

India’s wildlife action plans lay out long-term policy. This is the third wildlife action plan, the first having been released in 1983 and the second covering the period from 2002 to 2016. By definition and scope, the policy deals with an evolving reality. By the time the end of one action plan draws near, a lot tends to have changed on the ground since its beginning. Therefore, the National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) attempts to factor in both short- and long-term factors, with educated estimates of changes in variables over the years it will be in action.

The 2017-31 plan, too, has built upon its predecessor. While the editorial acknowledges this, it appears reluctant to give due credit to the enhancements and improvements and unwilling to see what it is new and perhaps even unique about the new plan.

So what is different this time?

Climate Change

First of all, the NWAP 2017-31 is unique because it is the first of its kind to factor the impact of climate change into wildlife policy. It integrates the impact of climate change on wildlife into the planning processes of wildlife management.

Climate change has never featured in the NWAP as an independent factor in itself, with a section dedicated to it. The new NWAP takes detailed note of what climate change may do to biodiversity and India’s wildlife and then sets out the objectives it deems important for integrating climate change with wildlife planning.

For instance, the NWAP says: “it is possible to make a robust conclusion that about one-third of the forested areas of India is projected to be impacted by climate change to the extent that they could change in character to another type before the end of the century.”

It also says: “The mean surface annual temperature over India has already increased by 0.56 °C per 100 years during the period 1901-2009, most of it since 1975 (IMD 2010). There are also indications that during the last three decades of the 20th century the monsoon has actually declined. If such climatic trends continue, they are bound to make major regional impacts on the country’s ecosystems and biodiversity. India also has a large human population with growing needs for energy and natural resources for the economic wellbeing of a substantial proportion below the poverty line. Therefore, an adequate understanding of the likely impacts of future climate change on these ecosystems is thus imperative to plan for strategies to promote climate change adaptation and resilience in natural ecosystems to change.”

After accounting in detail about the likely impact of climate change, the plan envisages the action required before discussing in detail specific priority projects for integrating climate change mitigation with wildlife planning. Hindustan Times, in focusing mostly on what the plan says about wildlife tourism, appears to have completely missed this new section in India’s NWAP.

Landscape Approach

The second important thing that the editorial seems to have overlooked, which is again a major new idea, is the new NWAP’s call for adopting a landscape-level approach to wildlife conservation. This is not only new but appears to be a logical advancement on the existing policy of concentrating on protected areas.

The plan says: “The 2.5% Indian landmass holds about 8% of the world’s biodiversity. Of these, about 5% of areas have only been declared as Protected Areas and the large numbers of wildlife is occurring outside PAs. Therefore, challenges of limited land (habitats), human pressures and development must all be kept in mind before preparing plans for the conservation of these wildlife and their habitats. Conservation of species must be seen as maintaining or enhancing populations, genetic exchanges between metapopulations, improving significantly, prospects of their long term persistence. Therefore, the plans must address species loss in the short term and the reasons for such depletions in the long run.” [Emphasis added]

While some fundamentals in the NWAP may naturally be a continuation of existing policy which appears to remain relevant, the 15-year plan for wildlife is perhaps not meant to cause radical ruptures in policy either. What it appears to do is preserve, adapt and adopt for new challenges and changing conditions. At the same time, it is an evolving policy and adds new dimensions to its previous version each time.

As such, the NWAP (2017-31) addresses the rising man-animal conflict resulting from habitat shrinkage and deterioration. It looks at improving wildlife health — a special area of focus for this plan — and calls for community support and participation. Even when there is policy continuity, there is often overhaul and reorientation. For example, tourism management itself, along with development of human resources, staff welfare, etc have undergone a reorientation in the plan.

The Hindustan Times editorial, in claiming that the new NWAP has nothing new in it, seems to have missed, among other things, the two very important additions to the NWAP discussed above.