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Mr. Rajiv Ranjan

IFS Principal Chief Conservator of Forests

Wildlife and Chief Wildlife Warden, Jharkhand

Jharkhand is historically blessed with greenery and natural resources. How green is the state now?

The state of Jharkhand came into existence on 15th November 2000 after the reorganization of the erstwhile unified Bihar. Situated in the eastern part of the country, Jharkhand covers an area of 79,716 sq km, which is 2.42 per cent of India’s geographical area. The State is very rich in forests and mineral wealth. According to India State of Forest Report (ISFR) published by Forest Survey of India (FSI) in 2019, the forest cover in the state is 23,611.41 sq km, which is 29.62 per cent of the State’s geographical area. This figure is based on the interpretation of satellite data from the period of November 2017 to January 2018.

In terms of forest canopy density classes, Jharkhand has 2,603.20 sq km under the very dense forest (VDF – canopy density more than 70 per cent) class; 9,687.36 sq km is under moderately dense forest (MDF – canopy density between 40 per cent and 70 per cent) class and 11,320.85 sq km is under open forest (canopy density between 10 per cent and 40 per cent) class. Forest cover in the State has increased by 58.41 sq km when compared to the previous assessment in ISFR 2017. However, the increase in VDF category, which is to the extent of only about 5 sq km, is of concern to the Forest Department and we are taking steps to enhance the forest cover particularly in this class.

How resilient is Jharkhand’s reserved and protected forest cover? According to you, what are the challenges in retaining their grandeur? How have you been able to engage all stakeholders in preserving the forest beauty of the state?

The forest vegetation of the State varies from rich Sal forests to miscellaneous forests and sparsely covered grasslands. Natural regeneration in Sal forests is excellent, particularly in forests having lesser biotic interference. Saranda forests in West Singhbhum district of the state present a majestic view owing to profuse natural regeneration. Developmental activities, more particularly mining activities, are serious challenges to forest conservation. Encroachment and rampant grazing in the forests are also significant challenges. Engagement of primary stakeholders in the protection and conservation of forests through Joint Forest Management (JFM) has been the mainstay and the Forest Department has successfully been able to control further degradation in forest resources, as evidenced by the data published by the FSI.

However, the livelihoods issue of forest dwellers has been a tough area to handle. It is an issue which must be accorded high priority. In general, forest dwellers residing in and around forests, particularly the tribal population, are heavily dependent on forests for their livelihood and are enthusiastic and sincere towards forest protection. They rely on non-timber forest produce such as mahua, honey, amla, etc., to sustain themselves. The challenge is that if other livelihood alternatives are not explored and made available, they would be forced to indulge in activities like tree-felling, which would be highly detrimental to our conservation efforts. Therefore, creating livelihood alternatives for forest dwellers ranks high on our agenda.

The growing population and subsequent penetration of humans into natural habitats, and rapid industrialization have hurt the state’s green scape over the years. What initiatives have been taken to check the onslaught of men on Jharkhand’s natural beauty?

Apart from conventional methods like regular patrolling and implementation of various legislations pertaining to forest and wildlife conservation, the Forest Department has keenly relied on the participatory model of forest management which involves active participation of primary stakeholders. We have laid more stress on improvement of forest stock by means of silvicultural operations, aggressive soil and moisture conservation measures, fire control, plantation over barren lands, etc. Afforestation over non-forest lands – government land -- and private lands constitute one of the key strategies to counter loss in forest cover. Schemes like Nagar Van Yojana, Mukhyamantri Jan Van Yojana, institutional plantations and roadside plantations have been taken up in a big way to promote urban forestry and agroforestry. Awareness programmes, especially targeted towards the younger population, like celebration of World Environment Day, International Day of Biological Diversity, Wildlife Week, Van Mahotsav, etc., are being undertaken by the Department on a regular basis.

The state has a huge potential for growing herbal and medicinal plants. If cultivated scientifically, these plants can significantly add to the income of our Tribal people for whom forest produce is the main source of livelihood. Tell us about the blueprint if any?

We have a chain of nurseries which grow various medicinal plants along with other plants. Villagers are being encouraged to take up plantation of medicinal plants. State Medicinal Plant Board is operational under the Health Department of the State. This area has not received much attention in Jharkhand. However, the State government has started taking up this aspect in a more focussed way. It is, in fact, somewhat difficult in the sense that it requires robust supply chain management and efficient marketing facilities. Involvement of the private sector in this endeavour is all the more desirable considering the complexities involved in the medicinal plants sector.

Illegal mining in forest areas and poaching of wild animals have always been a matter of serious concern. Do you think more concerted efforts are required to save the forests for our sustainable development?

Yes, very much indeed. Like other states, Jharkhand also faces the problem of criminal activity like poaching and illegal mining. In coordination with other law enforcement agencies, the Forest Department has been trying its best to identify illegal activity and deal with such instances with an iron hand. Dealing with such crime in general is a massive challenge because of discreet operating styles, but we do get tips upon which swift raids are conducted to nab the culprits. The law is strict, but no amount of effort is enough when it comes to combating crime. It constitutes an important part of our responsibilities and we take it extremely seriously.

As for forest conservation to support sustainable development there is undisputed consensus on the need for it. On the one hand there is a pressing need to preserve and protect our natural heritage in order to survive; while on the other hand developmental projects to enable modern living and industrial livelihood opportunities have also to be facilitated. The only solution left is to somehow strike a balance between these conflicting needs. The problem is such that an intricate balancing act is required, which involves a great deal of effort.

Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR) was one of the first nine tiger reserves created in the country at the inception of Project Tiger. It has the distinction of being the first sanctuary in the world in which a tiger census was carried out as a pugmark count, as early as 1932 under the supervision of JW Nicholson, the then DFO, Palamu. It has no tiger now. So painful!

As a matter of fact, as per All India Tiger Estimation (2018) published by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), no tiger could be recorded in PTR. However, it would be naïve to say that the Reserve is bereft of any tiger population. Last year, a tigress was found dead in the Reserve. The tigress had died due to old age-related issues. Further, tiger pugmarks have been spotted near the fringe of PTR merely 15 days ago. Direct sighting by the villagers has also been reported in addition to kills. Actual presence of tiger and recording of the presence of a tiger are two different things. As a matter of fact, a large chunk of the area of PTR remains left out of the census operations owing to left-wing extremism. This has a massive implication on the final numbers which come out.

PTR is a part of Central Indian Landscape Complex – the largest tiger landscape in India extending over an area of about 25,000 sq. km. Palamau has good corridor connectivity with other tiger habitats in the Central Indian Tiger Landscape, and the important ones include its linkages with Bandhavgarh, Sanjay-Dubri, Achanakmar and Kanha Tiger Reserves. Owing to its strategic location in the Tiger Landscape, PTR has vast potential.

Moreover, the presence of tigers should not be the sole consideration when making an opinion about any protected area. The stock and value benefits of PTR are immense. We are proud to cite the results of a pilot study commissioned by NTCA, GoI and carried out by Centre for Ecological Services Management (CESM), Indian Institute of Forest management (IIFM), Bhopal. The study aimed to provide outcomes of quantitative and qualitative estimates of economic valuation for 27 ecosystem services in ten tiger reserves across various tiger landscapes in India including Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR).

The study attempts to incorporate a wide range of the associated monetary and non-monetary values. According to the Report, published in 2019, the PTR provides flow benefits worth Rs 12954.4 crore per year (Rs 6.54 lakh per hectare) and stock benefits of Rs 96744.71 crore per year. Major ecosystem services that arise from this reserve include carbon sequestration (Rs. 5979.57 crore per year), provisioning of water (Rs. 2853.85 crore per year), and climate regulation (Rs 21.14 crore per year). In terms of the stock benefits, PTR ranked first and in terms of flow benefits, it ranked third amongst the 10 Tiger Reserves under study. The TRs involved in the study were Anamalai (Tamil Nadu), Bandipur (Karnataka), Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh), Melghat (Maharashtra), Nagarjunasagar Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), Pakke (Arunachal Pradesh), Panna (Madhya Pradesh), Similipal (Odisha), and Valmiki (Bihar).

We have read that PTR has now become a leopard reserve. It is said that you have around 150 leopards in PTR. How did this happen?

It is well known that leopards and tigers share the same habitat, the same territories, the same hunting grounds and the same prey. Therefore, the change, if any, in the population of leopards does not have any bearing on tiger population. The habitat of PTR is excellent. The forests are dense and pristine. The increasing leopard population is a testament to the immense quality of the PTR jungles.

Can we expect to see tigers in PTR again? What efforts are being made to facilitate their return? Many experts are of the view that depleting prey bases, increased human encroachment and movement of security personnel have done irreversible damage to wild habitats?

The landscape and habitat of PTR is such that one cannot deny tiger presence. PTR has been facing the problem of left-wing extremism since 1990. The livelihood dependency of local people on forests is very high. There are managerial issues like paucity of frontline staff. The local workforce is deployed to assist the field staff in day-to-day protection and tiger monitoring. The primary reasons for a sharp fall in the recorded presence of tigers in PTR are indeed high levels of human interference and significant presence of central para-military forces within the Reserve to counter extremism. While the damage done to PTR is significant, I would not say that it is irreversible. We are doing our best. The Forest Department has taken steps to improve an already excellent habitat by way of development and maintenance of grasslands and water holes. Awareness generation and creation of livelihood opportunities constitute major initiatives towards participatory management of the Reserve. Further, we are trying to relocate some villages situated in the core area out of the Reserve so as to reduce human interference. Relocation of two villages namely Latu and Kujrum is in the final stage and we hope that through this effort, we would be able to free about 250 hectares of core area from human presence.

A total of eight villages -- Kujrum, Latu, Ramandag, Hainar, Gutucha, Vijaypur, Gopkhad and Pandra – have been identified for relocation to places outside the tiger reserve with Latu and Kurjum falling under phase one. What has been the progress so far?

The progress towards relocation of the above-mentioned two villages has been satisfactory so far. In fact, we had planned to do this in the last financial year itself but the Covid situation made it impossible. We hope to achieve our goal by the end of the current FY if things improve. The villagers are convinced and the places where they are to be resettled have already been identified. After successful relocation of these two villages, we will try the relocation of the rest of the villages in the core area.

Last but not the least, a large number of people, mostly Tribals have been living in total harmony with nature in forests for centuries. What efforts have been undertaken to reduce their dependence on forests and add to their ease of lives?

The PTR management has taken many steps for the creation of alternate livelihood opportunities for the villagers residing within the Reserve. We have established NTFP (Non-timber Forest Produce) processing facilities. These play a key role in adequate monetization of the NTFP-related activities in which the locals are engaged in. Significant employment opportunities for the villagers are also consciously created by the Forest Department in its own activities of conservation and development of the habitat within the Reserve. Quite a few locals including tribals are engaged as daily-wage earners in such activities. Eco-development constitutes a cardinal part of the management of the reserve, resulting in augmentation of tribal livelihoods.




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