In the heart of Chhattisgarh, a state adorned with diverse ecosystems and a vibrant tribal culture, the call for action resonates through the lush landscapes. The mandate for Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) stands tall, embedded in the Biological Diversity Act of 2002 and reinforced by the National Green Tribunal’s directives. However, the gap between legislative intent and practical implementation, particularly the involvement of Gram Panchayats and village councils, poses a challenge.
Legislative Framework for Biodiversity Conservation
The Biological Diversity Act of 2002, accompanied by rules in 2004, provides a robust legal framework aimed at conserving biodiversity. At the heart of this framework lies the BMCs, envisioned as linchpins for grassroots conservation efforts. These committees, backed by legislative support, play a pivotal role in translating scientific knowledge into local practices and ensuring the safe custody and documentation of the same for future generations. But the question arises: after two decades of the great legislative framework in use, how far has it been followed at the local level? How about the attitude and status of the various stakeholders associated with it? What is the present context of entrusting this committee to safeguard our survival on earth, as the BMC approach is multifaceted and not limited only to environmental resources but much more diverse?
Role and Functions of BMCs
BMCs are not mere bureaucratic entities; they are integral components of a community-driven conservation strategy. Their primary role involves preparing People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) by consulting local communities about their preservation. These registers document valuable information on bio-resources, their uses, and traditional knowledge, acting as repositories of indigenous wisdom. So, this document can be considered a comprehensive record of different aspects of biodiversity, including the conservation of habitats, the preservation of landraces, domesticated stocks and breeds of animals, and microorganisms, and the accumulation of knowledge related to biodiversity present in an area.
In the quiet corners of our villages, a significant change is unfolding as local cattle breeds rapidly make way for foreign counterparts promising more milk and profits. While the allure of higher yields is tempting, these foreign breeds often struggle with the local climate, falling sick regularly, which leads to additional expenditure and burden for the cattle owner.
Alongside this, the disappearance of skilled individuals who can repair bullock carts or maintain traditional houses leaves a void in preserving local expertise, and the disappearance of wild local greens and grains rapidly changes the food habits of each individual in the village. Sadly, the younger generation is missing out on inheriting these invaluable skills and lacking enough knowledge to identify valuable local greens and grains that can be used for medicinal and food purposes. In this scenario, Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) emerge as beacons of hope at the last mile, which directly connects people. Tasked with conserving biodiversity, BMCs can play a pivotal role in promoting the preservation of native breeds, local natural resources, flora and fauna, and traditional and indigenous skills. By raising awareness, organizing workshops, and fostering community engagement, BMCs can bridge the gap between generations and ensure that the essence of rural life, embedded in local plants, animals, birds, all species, food habits, traditional /indigenous skills, and craftsmanship, continues to thrive for years to come.
Ground Reality and Concerns in Chhattisgarh
Despite the legislative emphasis, the ground reality in Chhattisgarh paints a concerning picture. Most of the BMCs in villages are non-functional or unknown to Gram Panchayats and village councils. It seems that Gram Panchayat officials and elected representatives are not aware of the existence and importance of the committee and the serious disconnect visible between the legislative framework and ground reality. This disconnect is particularly troubling in a state blessed with unique biodiversity and a significant tribal population, where effective conservation is both relevant and urgent. As a result, local indigenous skills are lost, but they are expected to be transferred to a new generation. Local natural resources are depleting at a faster pace as the concerned local institutions, i.e. Gram Panchayat and BMC, are not focusing on them for their conservation.
In this context, the most serious concern is that poor and marginalized communities are highly affected due to the loss of local indigenous skills and natural resources, as they depend on these indigenous skills and natural/biological resources for their livelihood and survival. However, modern technology and outside products take their space, and these communities become more vulnerable.
So, empowering local communities is the key to ensuring the functioning of BMC at the grassroots. Tribal communities, often possessing profound traditional knowledge, can be considered leaders in effective conservation. BMCs, with the involvement of Gram Panchayats and village councils, can harness this indigenous wisdom to formulate effective conservation strategies. The documentation of tribal practices in PBRs becomes crucial for preserving unique insights and integrating traditional knowledge into modern conservation efforts.
Towards Sustainable Development Goals
In the global context of achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) and growing concerns about environmental degradation, BMCs can play a major role in protecting biodiversity and cultural heritage. The involvement of local government institutions ensures a localized approach, connecting with the grassroots for effective biodiversity management.
The Way Forward
To bridge the existing gap and revitalize BMCs in Chhattisgarh, a multipronged approach is essential. So, collective responsibility at the grassroots from various local-level institutions can be considered the key to the empowerment of local communities and BMC. Therefore, local institutions like Self Help Groups (SHGs), youth clubs, Pani Samiti, Market committees, religious committees, Joint Forest Management Committees, Cooperatives, Farmers forums/committees, and all others can act together to achieve the goals of empowering BMC and communities for the protection of their own biodiversity heritage.
An extensive awareness campaign is needed to educate Gram Panchayats, village councils, BMCs, and local communities about the critical role of BMCs and the preparation of PBRs. Empowering these local bodies with knowledge and tools through training programs and workshops is equally vital. In the same direction, the role of youth and the active participation of the new generation are very much required to ensure the protection of our biodiversity heritage and traditional skills and expertise in any form.
The journey toward effective biodiversity conservation in Chhattisgarh hinges on the active participation of BMCs, Gram Panchayats, village councils, and local communities, especially the young generation. The synergy between legal mandates and grassroots involvement will not only bridge the existing gap but also pave the way for a more sustainable and community-centric approach to biodiversity management. This, in essence, is the localization of sustainable development goals, ensuring a better future for rural India and its communities dependent on biodiversity and natural resources.
Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and Rules 2004
National Green Tribunal Directives
Chhattisgarh State Biodiversity Board, Forest Department, Government of Chhattisgarh, website (https://www.cgsbb.in/)