Role of Gram Panchayats in Wildlife Conservation and Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation

13 Sep, 2019

Workshop for Gram Panchayat Pradhans and other representative community leaders in West Bengal

A one-day workshop was organised for Gram Panchayat Pradhans of North Bengal, Panchayat Samitis and other community representatives to bring about a common understanding on the issues of wildlife appreciation, nature conservation and human-wildlife conflict mitigation. The event was organised by the Indo-German Project “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC)” in India in partnership with the West Bengal Forest Department on 13th September 2019 at Chalsa, North Bengal.

The day started with a welcome note by Mr Prasanta Kumar Pandit (Retd.), CCF, West Bengal Forest Department. This was followed by an overview of the Indo-German Project on “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation” (HWC) in India by Dr Subhadeep Bhattacharjee, Technical Expert GIZ. The sessions focused on the overall concept and action plan of the activities to be followed by each Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayat towards nature conservation and human-wildlife conflict mitigation.

41 community leaders from seven Gram Panchayats and five Panchayat Samitis, representing 363 villages, participated in the workshop. After the introductory session, a panel discussion set the base for further discussion. Mr Prasanta Kumar Pandit provided the overall context of Human-Elephant Conflict scenarios in North and South Bengal in the last 12 years. An overview of basic wildlife ecology and behaviour focusing on some key species and basic concepts of HWC, were presented by Mr Aritra Kshettry. This was followed by an interactive session on the impact of HWC on the lives of the rural population of North Bengal and their prospective roles in mitigating such conflicts by Mr Hossain Habibul Hassan. Mrs Seema Choudhury shared the experience of several HWC incidences in North Bengal and discussed the response from government departments in terms of policies, institutional strengthening and local management action plans. Mr Mridul Kumar spoke on eco-development activities of the West Bengal Forest Department in North Bengal to support local communities to overcome the adverse effects of HWC. Mr Ganesh Oraon discussed the policy level activities taken up by the Jalpaiguri Zila Parishad to manage the HWC issues related to Elephants, Leopards and Gaur. As the last two contributors in the panel discussion, Presidents of Panchayat Samitis - Maynaguri and Nagrakata shared their experience and views on the role of the village-level institutions and local communities of North Bengal to support nature conservation and HWC mitigation activities.

During the post-lunch sessions, the participants (divided into five groups according to their representative Panchayat Samitis) discussed issues of wildlife conservation and good practices of HWC mitigation. The session began with a screening of a movie on “Living with Leopards – from Sanjay Gandhi National Park”, followed by group discussions on HWC mitigation practices. A case study on Human-Leopard conflict was presented by Mr Manish Kumar Yadav. He discussed the case study of Lankapara Tea Estate near Jaldapara National Park where three persons died, and four were injured as a result of human-leopard conflict in a period of two months. He shared the efforts of the Northern Wildlife Circle of West Bengal Forest Department in managing the situation and bringing about a change in people’s perceptions towards leopards in and around Jaldapara after such severe attacks. He spoke also about the management initiatives conducted by the Forest Department in resolving severe conflict. Mr Koustav Choudhury, President of the local NGO “Society for Nature and Animal Protection – SNAP” shared their technological innovation- a unique sensor that detects elephant presence in boundary areas between forest and rural landscapes from a distance of 200m and triggers a siren to alert the adjoining Forest Department and rural population about elephant movement in their vicinity. A round of questions and answers by the participants followed these presentations. These discussions were followed by an interactive session where the participants from the Panchayat Samitis and Gram Panchayats worked together to develop action plans to conduct two activities on wildlife and nature conservation within the next six months by each of their respective institutions. All these groups reflected on their contributions in planning their respective action plans in a sustainable and effective manner. The workshop ended with certificate distribution and delivery of key messages from Mr Prasanta Kumar Pandit, Mrs Seema Chaudhury, Ms Nisha Goswami, Mr Ganesh Oraon, Mr Manish Kumar Yadav and Mr Janmenjoy Paul, ADFO Gorumara Wildlife Division.

The resource persons included Mrs Seema Choudhury, honorary Wildlife Warden of Jalpaiguri district, Mr Ganesh Oraon, the executive president of the Jalpaiguri district forest committee, Mr Mridul Kumar, DFO Jalpaiguri from West Bengal Forest Department, Ms Nisha Goswami, DFO Gorumara Wildlife Division, Mr Manish Kumar Yadav, Assistant Wildlife Warden, Jaldapara National Park, Mr Aritra Kshettry, DST Inspire Fellow and currently consultant GIZ and Mr Hossain Habibul Hassan, JFMC executive and ex-President of Matiali Panchayat Samiti.