A draft national action plan

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

THE Ministry of Environment and Forests has made public, for review and comments, a draft National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). The plan recommends a series of bold measures to ensure that the country's ecological security is ensured, and that the livelihoods of the millions of people dependent on biological resources are secured. These measures call for a major reorientation of the process of economic development and of governance of natural resources, such that the health of the environment, especially critical ecosystems and wildlife habitats, and livelihoods of biomass-dependent communities become central to all planning, and such local communities become central to decision-making.

The draft national plan is being made available to several hundred institutions and agencies within and outside government and has been put on websites for public access. A summary of the plan is translated into several Indian languages for widespread distribution, in order to generate discussion and comments from the public.

In a departure from the usual practice, the national plan has been drafted at the end of a three-year process. Prior to this, over 70 local, State, inter-State, and thematic action plans were prepared by communities, academics, government officials, students, and others. This has been done through widespread grassroots consultation and awareness involving public hearings, biodiversity festivals, workshops and seminars, foot marches and boat rallies, questionnaires, outreach programmes through mass and folk media, and so on. Well over 50,000 people have participated in these an influential way. The national action plan draft is partly built on these 70-odd plans.

The national plan draft stresses the following strategies and actions:

* Preparing a national land and water use plan, through a widespread participatory process;

* Creating or strengthening decentralised institutions of governance;

* Re-orientating development-related policies, laws, and schemes, to ensure that biodiversity and people's livelihoods are secured;

* `Eco-regional planning';

* Integrating biodiversity concerns through inter-sectoral and inter-departmental coordination at local, district, State, and national levels;

* Expanding and strengthening the network of conservation sites for wild animals and plants;

* Conserving areas ("agrobiodiversity-protected areas") that are critical for indigenous crop and livestock diversity, and promoting practices that would help to conserve this diversity amongst farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, and others;

* Respecting, protecting, and building on traditional knowledge of biodiversity;

* Strengthening and promoting community-level crop gene banks and seed banks;

* Promoting indigenous, nutritionally superior food crops such as coarse millets through the Public Distribution System;

* Regulating tourism in natural land and waterscapes and facilitating genuine ecotourism through strictly enforced ecological and cultural guidelines and by enhancing the capacity of local communities to manage it;

* Tackling a range of threats to biodiversity;

* Facilitating sustainable, bioresource-based livelihoods;

* Building the capacity of all sections of society to handle various issues of biodiversity;

* Strengthening the Environmental Impact Assessment procedure by integrating biodiversity in all its aspects (especially agrobiodiversity, which is currently missing);

* Estimating the full economic and social values of biodiversity;

* Reorienting State and national budgets to integrate squarely the true and full value of biodiversity and the environmental services performed by natural land and waterscapes;

* Increasing the funding for biodiversity measures, including through innovative financial mechanisms;

* Promoting traditional and new technologies that reduce the negative impact of current human activities and use alternative materials that are ecologically sustainable;

* Facilitating and developing ecologically conscious consumer groups and markets;

* Putting into place a moratorium on genetically engineered or modified organisms and products till the following are ensured: long-term ecological and social studies by independent agencies, full disclosure of risks to users and consumers, full participation of key stakeholders in decision-making including in the relevant government research and regulatory bodies, and a process of nationwide consultation; and

Pro-actively advocating the integration of biodiversity and livelihood issues specific to India, at all international forums, including environmental treaties, and economic agreements such as under World Trade Organisation.

Overall, the national action plan draft advocates that the focus of all planning and decision-making in India should be on achieving the twin objectives of ecological security (including conservation of ecosystems and species) and livelihood security (especially of the most underprivileged sections of society).

The draft plan also lays out an implementation and monitoring mechanism for the above measures, linking this to the proposed Biological Diversity Bill.

This includes:

* Relevant authorities or boards at local, State, and national levels;

* A National Biodiversity Network that builds on the network created in the NBSAP process;

* A Biodiversity Working Group at the Planning Commission;

* Specially designated officers to handle biodiversity matters in each Union Ministry.

The national plan draft will be open for public review in November and December and will be discussed at a national workshop to held in New Delhi from December 20 to 23, 2002, and then finalised and released.

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