Prof. Madhav Gadgil speaks on Biodiversity and people's knowledge in India.
Director: Nilanjan Bhattacharya
Duration: 00:48:45; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 80.151; Saturation: 0.083; Lightness: 0.314; Volume: 0.196; Cuts per Minute: 0.431; Words per Minute: 63.785
Summary: This event is a compilation of two sub-events-
1. An interview with Prof. Madhab Gadgil, an ecologist and ex-director of Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISC, Bangalore. He has a pioneering role in foregrounding the importance of people's view in the formation of India's conservation strategy/policy.He talked about the richness of India's biological resources, reasons of it's erosion, knowledge base of locals about sustainable use and management of their biological resources.
2. Example of a Buddhist traditional religious ethics; protecting a forest in the name of a god/goddesses that plays an important role in conserving forest patches. Through a local's interview the concept of Sacred Groves and strong belief surrounding it get explained.
Mg: India is one among 12 megadiversity countries in the world. People's knowledge about the use of biodiversity is also very rich in india.
Centre for ecological sciences
Character Interviewed: Madhab Gadgil
Indian institute of Sciences
Question: If you could talk about the medicinal uses.
Reply: We have a variety of medicinal systems from folk medicines, which is practised through out the country - each locality may have its own system of medicinal uses and even each community in a given locality will have its own system. But other than that there are the major codified systems of ayurveda, siddha, yunani. So, you have a whole range of traditions and out of our 15,000 odd species of flowering plants, something like 7500 species are used for some medicinal purpose or the other in some culture or another within the country.
MG: Talks about traditional medicinal practices in India, both codified and uncodified.
MG Talks about the reasons for biodiversity resources and related knowledge erosion.
No concern for natural resource conservation and management among the intellectuals during the colonial period.
The conservation efforts in the country have tended to be elitist efforts led by organisations like World Wildlife Fund. My early experience with WWF was at one meeting that i attended. They came up with two decisions: one was that the monkeys of Bangalore were causing too much destruction to the gardens of the WWF committee members and they should be trapped and transported out of the city, and the second decision was on elephants who were extensively causing crop damage and occasionaly killing people. The WWF decided to educate people that it was them who were encroaching on elephant territory and that's why the crop destruction and killing of people should be tolerated. So, it was increasingly clear that the cost of conservation was being imposed of the rural people who were living close to wildlife concentrations, while the enjoyment of wildlife through tourism and photography and other such activities came to the urban elite. This, to me, was not a sustainable situation unless there was genuine involvement of people in conservation and the cost of conservation was not unduly imposed on people living in wildlife concentrations. We would not, in the long run, be able to sustain the effort.
Nature conservation efforts are elitist.
Its important to understand how people view conservation.
Initiation of Public Biodiversity Register (PBR).
When WWF undertook a project on setting priorities, I suggested that what was more important than simply stating that elephant and tiger are priority species or bharatpur a priority site was to understand how people view wildlife, conservation issues and how they think conservation should be undertaken. About eight years ago we initiated a project on developing people's bio-diversity registers in 50 different locations representing all parts of the country, where a network of biologists, NGO activists and others work with local communities to try and document people's understanding and perceptions of bio-diversity heritage of their locality and how it should be managed.
The conservation effort in India began after independence when old hunters turned into photographers and got interested in wildlife conservation. It has always had an elitist bias and I strongly felt that the costs of conservation were being borne by rural and tribal people living near concentrations of wildlife population. But the motivation of conservation came from the urban elite who were primarily interested in conservation for their own recreation. I believe that this still continues to be a problem and this is not a sustainable situation. So, eight years ago, when WWF initiated a project on deciding on bio-diversity conservation priorities, I suggested that the exercise should take the form of simply stating that tigers and rhinoceros are the highest priority species or localities like Bharatpur and Corbet being considered the high priority localities. But rather the priorities should be in terms of what are the motivations which can be promoted so that there will be genuine broad based support for nature conservation and bio-diversity conservation in India.
MG: Nature conservation efforts in India essentially started with old hunters turning into photographers and becoming interested in wildlife conservation. That is the key reason for having an elitist bias in conservation efforts. It is still continuing.
It is important to see/ document how people view nature conservation, how they want to manage their natural resources. PBR is planned for doing that.
So I proposed that we go to all parts of India, to areas with wildlife concentrations, sanctuaries, national parks, those under protection and also other areas because after all we have had people conserving wildlife throughout the country and that's why we still have troops of monkeys moving around our countryside. We should ask those people how they perceive bio-diversity conservation, what their priorities are and how they would like to setup institutions for long-term maintenance of our rich heritage of bio-diversity. This is how we got involved in a network of people like conservation activists, biologists, environment-related NGOs and many others and organised a network in 52 localities spanning from Andaman and Nicobar to Himachal Pradesh and Bikaner in Bahratpur to Silchar in Assam. We talked to people, understood their priorities and how they would like to manage bio-diversity. That was the beginning of the People's Bio-Diversity Register Exercise.
Before the People's Bio-Diversity Register Exercise there has been a tradition which originated with the Kerala Shyastra Sahitya Parishad's interest in Panchayat-level resource mapping and involving people in the Panchayat level in thinking about and planning for resource management. I was also personally interested and worked with friends in Kerala Shyastra Sahitya Parishad in understanding how this Panchayat-level resource mapping maybe given scientific underpinning. Other scientists from Thiruvanantapuram were also ininvolved. SO with this background when I was asked by the Planning Commission to look at the Western Ghats Development Programme covering the states of Karnataka, Kerela, Goa and Maharashtra, I suggested to the Planning Commission that instead of us doing this with the help of little technical assistance situated in Bangalore, we should involve school and college teachers in trying to evaluate the Western Ghat Development project, each in their own localities. This was agreed upon and we had very good response. A number of college teachers from towns located near the Western Ghats participated and prepared an evaluation of this development programme. They were very interested to continue this exercise so when I had another opportunity through a grant to initiate and support a scientific network, I was involved in setting up the Western Ghat bio-diversity network involving a number of biology teachers from colleges along the Western Ghats. Together, we developed a methodology to scientifically document, using student power, the biological diversity of each in their own locality. This experience was important input in the People's Bio-Diversity Register Exercise, which began two-three years after the Western Ghats Bio-diversity network was established.
Question: What is the current situation and what are your observations on the current PBR activities?
Reply: An important context has been created in involving people to think about and conserving bio-diversity using it sustainably by the International Convention on Bio-diversity. This convention assigns both to countries of origin, sovereign rights on bio-diversity resources and also explicitly states the need to respect and share benefits with local communities who have practices of good management of bio-diversity and who have knowledge of sustainable uses of bio-diversity. So, India as party to conventional bio-diversity has come up with the Biological Diversity Act which provides for establishment of local level bio-diversity management committees, Panchayats, municipalities, corporations and expects that these local bodies will be involved in bio-diversity management and also document the same. Now, there is a countryside interest in building upon earlier experiences of people's bio-diversity register and creating a tool appropriate for the functioning of the bio-diversity committees which will eventually manage the country's bio-diversity resources in each of their localities in a proper fashion. In the last few years this interest has led to the development of the methodology of People's bio-diversity research.
Impact of International Convention on Biological Diversity at Geneva and Biodiversity Act of India.
MG: Methodology and significance of PBR.
Question: This is regarding the criticism thrown towards PBR.
Reply: We have in the past and continue to face problems of usurpation of both our bio-diversity resources and associated knowledge by a whole range of actors, internal and external. Exercises such as PBR will record carefully the occurrence of bio-diversity resources in specific localities and associated knowledge, which could be taken advantage of by others to usurp these without appropriate sharing of benefits. Of course, the conventional bio-diversity talks about equitable sharing of benefits as an important objective and all this documentation through PBR oriented so as to promote equitable sharing of benefits. But people naturally have misgivings that cheaters will come and without proper sharing take away the resources and the knowledge. There are ways of dealing with this and this has to be incorporated in any programme. For instance, knowledge which is recorded need not be made available to the public openly. What can be done is only an indication can be given of the knowledge recorded and the rest of the information can be kept confidential. The National Innovation Foundation is working along these lines and the PBR component of knowledge recording will be handled by the National Innovation Foundation, which will make sure of confidentiality and access being available only to those who are appropriately authorised and who are willing to share benefits. So certainly the PBR, as being developed today, will not allow all that is recorded publicly available and there will be appropriate safeguards.
However, we must also note that it is us Indians who suffer most from lack of proper information, documentation and scientific understanding. There is a much larger proportion of specimens of Indian plants and animals located abroad than in our own scientific institutions. The British museum has specimens of many species that are not available in India at all. In terms of organisation of knowledge also the Natural Product Alert, an electronic database located in Chicago in United States, has a much more extensive documentation of medicinal uses of plants of India than any database developed in India. In fact, we have so far failed to develop a good information system on our medicinal plants with the collaboration of Indian organisations. Thus we must organise our information properly while instituting appropriate safeguards. This is very much possible and this is what we must aim for.
Question: What are the scopes created by the Bio-diversity Act? Also, what are its limitations and your expectations from it?
Reply: The Biology Diversity Act is an important step forward given the developments in bio-technology and the potential that it has opened up for the uses of life forms as well as in information technology. Also, all the new developments including India's acceptance of GAT, General Agreement on Trade and Tariff, and the intellectual property rights component which goes with GAT. We have to make sure that our rights are protected through proper legislation. This is what the Bio-diversity Act tries to do. We are also taking advantage through this Act of the provisions of sovereign rights of our country over our own resources of bio-diversity to share benefits with the local people. The objectives are appropriate for the present situation. There are a number of provisions of the Act, which may make it difficult for all the objectives to be met adequately. For instance, 'the Act has to operate side by side with all the other Acts' - initially it was expected to be an umbrella Act where a proper management of bio-diversity based on this Act could be put in place throughout the country. But now it is not an umbrella Act, it is a complementary Act so the Forest Act and the Panchayat Raj Act will all operate side by side with this Act. There are likely to be many conflicts, especially when it comes to the appropriate sharing of benefits with people; for instance, its relation to the Forest Act. There are dangers that at the end the Act may not be implemented in an effective fashion, but may instead become a tool for those in power to merely harass people. But hopefully, given the growth of democratic traditions in the country, the transparency brought in by independent media this will not happen and the Act will serve the important objectives for which it has been designed.
MG: On the significance of Biological Diversity Act of India and implementation possibilities of it.
Question: If you could also mention how PBR has come with new scopes.
Reply: The Bio-diversity Act is probably the first Act to have proper statutory requirement for an institution such as Bio-diversity Management Committee at the level of local Panchayats and other bodies like municipalities, corporations and so on. We have had an extensive programme of joint forest planning and management through which village forest committees have been set up, either through government initiatives or through people's initiatives. There are thousands of them throughout the country but there is no statutory recognition of these committees. There are serious difficulties because of that and very often even though people would like such committees to be established and function, the government machinery does not respond because there is no statutory recognition. Now, there is a statutory requirement so there is a whole range of living resources including forest resources could come under the purview of the bio-diversity management committees. They have been given some important roles under the Act, only if it is all effectively implemented. This will result in the decentralising of planning and management of all natural resources.
The Act also has important provisions for agricultural bio-diversity and we also have the Protection of Plant varieties and Farmers' Rights Act. So the Bio-diversity Act properly combined with this Act could relook at the intensive chemical base development of agriculture, which has been going on for several decades but which now faces serious issues, including what is termed as the fatigue of the green revolution. If a new sustainable approach has to come in then these bio-diversity management committees in the Panchayat level could catalyze this in the context of agriculture also.
Question: What is the next step that you have planned?
Reply: In the next few years I am interested in involving students, both college and school students, in scientifically well-designed programmes of inventorying, monitoring bio-diversity and other resources and to feed into their minds the bio-diversity register exercises. But apart from that, these programmes have a value in enunciating the quality of education for the students themselves. Given the new developments of information technology all the material that can come out of such exercises can be organized in a valuable information system for the country as a whole. And while the students undertake these exercises they could not only become familiar with plants and animals but also become familiar with computers and modern tools of information technology. These are very interesting academic possibilities that I want to continue working on.
I believe that there are many scientific academic challenges that a broad-based student-centered programme of documenting bio-diversity throughout the country exists. This would not only get the students to learn about plants and animals but also get them involved in using modern tools of information technology as these could be used to deploy information to a larger scale, well integrated database. All of this could help the local people's bio-diversity register exercises which should, now given the Act, be undertaken on a very broad scale throughout the country.
Question: Your work revolves around resolving the conflicts between in conserved areas as well as balancing conservation efforts. According to you how bright is the prospect of it all, in the Indian context?
Reply: It is very important that nature conservation efforts continue but they must have the backing of the people who are part of the same eco-system. India provides a very interesting laboratory for these exercises because ours is the largest democracy and the traditional involvement of people in the democratic process is being strengthened year after year, although there is a long way to go. So, in the long run India can elaborate a model of people-friendly bio-diversity conservation effort. We are moving the correct direction and in the coming years we should develop important initiatives in that direction.
MG: Nature conservation should have the backing of the people who are the part of the same ecosystem. India has the possibility of developing a people's friendly biodiversity conservation policy in coming years.
Kabi Langcuk sacred grove, Sikkim
Question: Why did you come here and what is your objective here?
Reply: Many years ago an old couple used to live here who, we believe, were divine beings. Khe Bumsa, a prince from Tibet, arrived here and asked for a wish from this old couple. His wish was granted and a son was born to him. That is when his dynasty began here in Sikkim. This is why we pray in this area for the well-being of his empire. There exists here two communities namely Lepcha and Bhutiya, and this prayer is also to hope for the unity of the two communities so that they live in harmony. This was something the old couple had also prayed for and thus we keep the tradition going.
Sacred Grove, a forest dedicated to a god or goddesses. Kabi Langchuk is one in Sikkim.
In this interview Dugbe Lepcha talks about a myth related to this particular sacred grove and how the forest has always been protected by the gods.
He also talks about passing on the story and his belief to his children as they can also understand the importance of this place.
Question: The trees here have been taken care of for so many years, the forest has been well-conserved and the villagers don't come and take anything from this area. What is the mindset behind this?
Reply: It is believed that the divine couple, Thikung Thek and Nikung Nal, is still alive and live around this area. People who have come here to cut trees have experienced strange sensations and some have even seen divine visions. This is why they decided not to tamper with the forest in this area.
Question: So villagers do not come here to cut trees?
Reply: No, nobody cuts trees here.
Question: You have brought your children here as well, what have they learnt here?
Reply: I want them to know about the history of this place; why we pray to the stone, to the trees. I haven't had the time to tell them as yet, but will do so as we walk back. It would be good for them to understand our culture and keep it going even after I am long gone, especially because this is a monument of the Lepcha community. This is where our chief, Thikung Thek sat. No one knows of his birth or death and so we believe he still lives here. Khe Bhumsa and Thikung Thek made a promise between them that if Khe Bhumsa has a son, which will give Sikkim a king, he will ensure that there is peace and harmony between the Lepchas and the Bhutiyas. Later, in 1642 when the Kingdom officially began there were celebrations in the palace and at about that time were formed three guardian deities, the main witness deities, to whom we pray to till date.
Question: Do you belong to the Lepcha community?
Reply: Yes, but here both Bhutiya and Lepcha are quite the same having the same population strength.
Question: Is there also a tradition of the Lepcha community to pray to trees?
Reply: We pray not only to trees but also to stones. Even Hindus believe in this. It is believed that gods and goddesses reside in trees. And so do Nags, the snake gods. They reside is those trees which give out milk. They search for specific places where they find comfort, where water tastes like amrit, the divine potion, and not like blood, which is what is served to you in hell. This is why they choose only certain ponds to reside in. There are also moments when one experiences miracles on trees, at times on stones, in caves, in water. All nature is ultimately the same.
Question: What is your name?
Reply: Dubgey Lepcha