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[NEW DELHI] Indian environmentalists have released a major report on biodiversity, and accused the country's environment ministry — which commissioned the report from them — of delaying its release for nearly two years.

The report is part of a 'national biodiversity strategy and action plan', which India, like all signatories to the UN Convention on Biodiversity, is required to complete.

The document warns that India's biodiversity faces many threats such as habitat loss and over-exploitation of natural resources. These threats, it says, are largely due to India's "unsustainable" model of development based on large-scale industry and commercial agriculture.

As well as pointing out gaps in Indian policies, the report recommends hundreds of actions to conserve and sustainably use Indian biodiversity.

Ashish Kothari, director of Kalpavriksh, the organisation that released the report today (4 October), says the ministry should have published it nearly two years ago. But in March 2005, the ministry told Kalpavriksh that the report should not be made public.

A ministry official told SciDev.Net that the reason for the delay was that the ministry needed to finalise its national environment policy first — which could take another month to complete.

"The two documents have to be harmonised," said the official.


In 2000, the ministry chose Kalpavriksh as the report's technical coordinator. The decision to involve a non-governmental organisation (NGO) was hailed by analysts as an example of how government and NGOs could work together to address issues of national concern.


To prepare the report, Kalpavriksh spent nearly four years consulting more than 50,000 people including local communities, activists, officials and scientists. It submitted the report to the ministry in December 2003.

Kothari says the ministry's decisions "ignore the energy and inputs that thousands of people have put into the process, and violate the contractual agreement between the ministry and the UN Development Programme, which funded the process."

The ministry says, however, it is Kalpavriksh that has violated the agreement.

"They are not its owners and cannot unilaterally release it", said the official.

Kothari says that in January 2004 the ministry said the draft report would be released for cabinet approval.

By May 2004, the ministry had changed its position, prohibiting anyone from publishing the report in any form or revealing its content.

In February 2005, the ministry told Kalpavriksh that it was uncomfortable with some sections of the action plan, but did not specify which. The government has not shared the revised draft with its collaborating partners, nor indicated when it would be finalised.

Kothari believes one reason for the concern is that senior officials in the ministry oppose the decentralised approach to biodiversity conservation recommended by the report.


This approach involves action at various political levels — national, state and district — as well as conserving biodiversity in ecologically similar zones across states.


The ministry, Kothari says, is also unhappy with suggestions such as engaging with armed rebel groups in areas such as north-east India, a biodiversity hotspot that is rife with militancy.


Kalpavriksh's report says India lacks a comprehensive national plan for land and water use. Also needed, it says, are inventories of India's wild species, and data on their distribution and genetic diversity.

It also points out a limited understanding of relationships between diversity of crops and wild species, and of traditional knowledge about Indian biological resources.

The report makes more than 300 recommendations for action in four key strategic areas: improved planning and governance, wild biodiversity; domesticated biodiversity; and links between wild and domesticated biodiversity.

It gives high priority to incorporating water and land use in planning, strengthening conservation outside protected areas, using natural resources sustainably; and improving education, awareness and training.

Read more about agriculture and biodiversity in SciDev.Net's spotlight

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