In a bid to boost conservation efforts, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) announced plans to spend Rs 20 crore on five endangered species namely the Dugong, Gangetic Dolphin, Great Indian Bustard, Manipur Brow Antler Deer (Sangai) and Wild Water Buffalo.
“They are all important conservation targets for one or more reasons. Dugongs and Gangetic dolphins, for instance, are under the threat of hunters and they live in habitats where law enforcement is tough,” says Ullas Karanth, director of Science- Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society.
While the move was praised by experts for shifting focus on the conservation of lesser known species (besides the lion, tiger and elephant), questions were raised on the effectiveness of such a move.
“This amount will have no effect as the funds required for each of these species are more than what has been allocated. Each of these species is found over large landscapes and thus require separate policy and conservation strategy,” says Anish Andheria, president of Wildlife Conservation Trust.
“The conservation of such species also involves a multitude of issues such as regulations as per wildlife law, community participation, intensive research and monitoring, which require large sums,” says Andheria.
Under the ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’ scheme, the Centre allocates sums to states for the recovery of endangered species. Out of 17 identified endangered species, nine Adhave received financial support from the Centre since 2008. Of these, the Sangai deer (Manipur) received Rs 79 lakh between 2009-15, the Dugong (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) Rs 55 lakh between 2013-14 and the Wild Buffalo (Chhattisgarh) Rs 210 lakh between 2012-15.
“But these sums were paltry compared to the enormous fund needed for research and conservation,” says Tito Joseph, program manager, Wildlife Protection Society of India. Then how is the new rollout of Rs 20 crore different? “The present proposals for conservation of species have reviewed the past efforts and outlined various steps, which are needed to protect these species better,” says VB Mathur, director of Wildlife Institute of India.
Lack of funds has previously plagued the conservation efforts of the Wild Buffalo in Chhattisgarh; one of the species the Centre is targeting. A judgment passed by the Supreme Court in 2005 reads, “The State of Chhattisgarh… has pointed out that it could not effectively implement some of the programmes for preservation and conservation of Wild Buffalo due to lack of funds. The scheme envisages 100 percent assistance (from Centre).” (sic)
The conditions have persisted irrespective of change in governments. Today, the MoEFCC itself is suffering from a dearth of funds after the government slashed its budget by 18 percent from Rs 2043 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 1681 crore in 2015-16. Additionally, funds for Project Tiger were reduced from Rs 161 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 136 crore in 2015-16.
“It is good to see that there is targeted investment to protect these species. Of course, much more will be needed, both in the short and long term, to meet international policy targets to, for example, prevent extinctions and improve the status of these and other species,” says Mike Hoffmann, a senior scientist on species survival commission at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
That the sum of Rs 20 crore was allocated from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), fund primarily meant for afforestation, raises other problems, mainly the lack of adequate allocation.
“This amount (Rs 20 crore) is insignificant keeping in mind the vast areas occupied by these species. The government should have created an additional source outside of existing funds,” says Andheria. However, others say it is a beginning that cannot be overlooked. “If CAMPA funds can be effectively used to boost existing conservation efforts, why not?” says Joseph.
There are also doubts as to how deforestation and conservation could go handin hand. Dismissing such concerns, Mathur says, “No diversion of funds from CAMPA has been made. The CAMPA funds are for conservation, management, protection of both forest and wildlife, which are complementary to each other.”