The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is an important source of study material for IAS, especially for the current affairs segment. In this section, we give you the gist of the EPW magazine every week. The important topics covered in the weekly are analysed and explained in a simple language, all from a UPSC perspective.
1. Reintroduction of the Asiatic Lion
- The population of the Asiatic lion is confined only to Gujarat, and constitutes a single population that is vulnerable to extinction.
- In 2013, the Supreme Court directed that a second home be created for the Asiatic lion in Kuno–Palpur Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. However, no concrete steps have been taken in this direction.
- On the contrary, regressive policy changes have been carried out with the clear objective of undermining the Supreme Court’s judgment.
About Asiatic Lions
- The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) once had a fairly large distribution and originated in East and South Africa and came into India sometime between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago
- Asiatic lions became restricted to the Gir forests of western India and their numbers declined to around 50 individuals due to hunting and habitat loss.
- The Gir landscape in Gujarat comprises about 9,000 square kilometres (km2)
Issues relating to wildlife protection
- The recent controversy over the shifting of mugger crocodiles from their habitat near the Statue of Unity in Gujarat for tourist “safety,” has generated controversy
- It is not clear as to whether the legal procedures under the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 were followed or not.
- However, the Gujarat government also opposes shifting of few endangered Asiatic lions from Gujarat to a proposed second home in Kuno–Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh (MP)
- The reluctance of Gujarat to part with Asiatic lions assumes a serious dimension in view of the death of a sizeable number of lions due to the outbreak of suspected canine distemper.
- Compounding the issue further is the fact that establishing the second population of the Asiatic lion in MP is not just a policy decision but a judicial direction
- Though the Supreme Court directed that the process of reintroduction of lions should be completed within six months of the judgment, no concrete steps have been taken till now.
Importance of a Second Habitat
- Despite this geographical spread, it is still regarded as a single population and this makes it vulnerable to local extinction processes.
- In such a situation, establishing other free-ranging populations geographically distant from Gir is regarded as a conservation priority
- It has also been highlighted that although, currently, lions continue to expand their range and density, it seems that in the future, human-caused mortality is likely to increase.
Impediments for Second habitat
- The three sites identified were Darrah–Jawahar Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary (Rajasthan), Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary (Rajasthan) and Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary (MP).
- After a detailed survey by the WII, Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was found to be the most suitable.
- In order to implement the Lion Relocation project, a 20-year project was conceived in three phases as follows:
- Phase 1: village relocation and habitat development
- Phase 2: fencing at the side, translocation, research and monitoring
- Phase 3: eco-development.
- Ironically, it was easier to relocate villages with tribal populations, than to get the Government of Gujarat to part with a small number of its lions to ensure the long-term survival of the population.
- The Gujarat government refused to part with even a single Asiatic lion, out of its population of nearly 400.
- The wildlife institute of India (WII), which is India’s premier institution on wildlife research and which conceptualised the lion relocation project.
- Despite the fact that the project was not progressing as per the plan, the WII did not aggressively push for implementation of the project.
Supreme Court Judgment
- The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in 2013 (Centre for Environmental Law v Union of India 2013), took a serious view of lack of implementation of the lion relocation programme.
- The Court’s judgment was hailed as a significant step in recognition of the fact that Gujarat is not the “owner” of the Asiatic lion and cannot have a special right over the animal.
- The Supreme Court gave a timeline of six months for the implementation of the lion reintroduction programme.
- It has now been nearly six years and nothing concrete has been done in order to implement the orders of the Court.
- The Court had directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to constitute an expert committee. Subsequently, the expert committee was formed by central government.
- Despite the direction of the Supreme Court to implement the project within six months of the judgment, all that the central government did was constitute the committee.
- Nothing significant has happened so far, as far as efforts towards the relocation of the lions are concerned after 2016.
- However, in 2017, a significant policy change took place which clearly reveals that if things continue as they presently are, the Asiatic lion reintroduction plan is not likely to be ever implemented.
- This policy change was on account of the new National Wildlife Action Plan, 2017 (MoEFCC 2017) which replaced the earlier National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002 (MoEFCC 2002)..
- It is pertinent to point out that the National Wildlife Action Plan, 2002–16 that emphasised the need for an “alternative home” for species, which included the Asiatic lion, formed the foundation of the Supreme Court judgment.
- The isolation of animal species due to fragmentation of habitats reduces relict populations to unviable levels, leading to local extinction.
- For highly endangered species like the Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, Asiatic Lion, Wild Buffalo, Dugong, the Manipur Brow Antlered Deer and the like, alternative homes are imperative (MoEFCC 2002).
- What is deeply problematic with the new action plan is that it seems to have been framed keeping the “emotional” interest of Gujarat in mind.
- This is evident from the fact that the new National Wildlife Action Plan has deleted all references to the Asiatic lion. The new action plan has removed the Asiatic lion from the list of animals that require alternative homes.
- The National Wildlife Action Plan now no longer emphasises the need for an alternative home for the Asiatic lion.
- The judgment and directions of the Court are thus sought to be overruled not through a statutory law passed by the legislature, but through an action plan.
- This blatant non-compliance to the directions of the Court not only has serious implications for wildlife conservation but also undermines the authority of the Supreme Court.
- The Asiatic lion relocation case shows how regional sentiments take precedence over science as well as rule of law.
- The relocation of the Asiatic lion from Gujarat is a conservation necessity in order to ensure the long-term security for the only lion population outside Africa.
- The recent epidemic which led to the death of nearly 28 lions could have served as a wake-up call to ensure that the relocation efforts are revived. Nothing of this sort seems to have happened.
- On the contrary, the National Tiger Conservation Authority, a statutory authority with the mandate to protect tigers and their habitat, has approached the Supreme Court to seek permission to revive the African cheetah reintroduction programme in India.
- The plans for introduction of African cheetah, if approved, would mean that the Asiatic lion will be overshadowed by the African cheetah in the race to find a second home.
- The Asiatic lion will thus remain vulnerable to both the loss of habitat and the threat of epidemic.
- The lion relocation case is a testimony to the ability of the government to circumvent the mandatory directions of the Court through innovative use of committees and policy changes.
- The constitutional means to overrule a judgment of the Court is to pass legislation to that effect.
- However, the process is cumbersome and controversial, and attracts public attention, which would lead to opposition.
- The failure of the Asiatic lion reintroduction is therefore not just an issue of conservation but rather an instance of failure of rule of law and the triumph of regional parochial interest over science.
2. A World of Migrants
- Migration from North Africa is forced by the destruction of poorer nations by unfair trade policies and environmental crises.
- Refusal by the European and other advanced capitalist countries to acknowledge the root causes and own up to their responsibilities have blurred the line between life and death for migrants travelling through the Sahara to reach the Mediterranean.
Path of Migration
- Refugees do not show up in the Mediterranean Sea as if from nowhere. By the time they get into their flimsy boats on the Libyan coastline, they have lived many, many dangerous lives.
- They would have left their increasingly unproductive fields in western and eastern Africa, fled wars in the Horn of Africa, in Sudan and in places as far as Afghanistan.
- What they want is to make it to Europe, which—since the early days of colonialism—has broadcast itself as the land of milk and honey.
- Old colonial ideas and the wealth of Europe built from colonial labour beckons. It is a siren for the wretched of the earth.
- It has ended for many Africans in virtual concentration camps in Libya, where refugees that Europe does not want now linger—some sold into slavery.
- To get to Libya, the migrants and refugees have to cross the forbidding Sahara Desert, which in Arabic is known, rightly, as the Greatest Desert (al-Sahara al-Kubra).
- It is vast, hot and dangerous. Old salt caravans—the azalai—mostly managed by the Tuareg peoples would run between Mali as well as Niger and Libya.
- They would carry gold, salt, weapons, and captured human beings as objects of trade. Those old caravans still make their journey, moving from one water source to the next, the camels as exhausted as the Tuareg.
- They prefer buses, pickup trucks and jeeps to ferry humans and cocaine towards Europe, while guns and money come southwards.
- These newer caravans drive along unmarked paths, heading between sand dunes, searching for old tire tracks that have been buried in disorienting sandstorms.
- The Sahara is dangerous. The journey in a pickup truck could take three days, at best, or the refugees and cocaine mules could find themselves dying from dehydration, or at the hands of extremists, smugglers or the security forces in the region
- There are many people ready to prey on the travellers and on the smugglers, whose cars are routinely stolen.
G5 Sahel Initiative
- To prevent the migrants from reaching the Mediterranean, France asked five African countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) to join its G5 Sahel Initiative.
- The Sahel is the belt that runs across Africa below the Sahara Desert. The European Union has also contributed to this project.
- France had provided a great deal of money to this effort, which of course had been encouraged by Chad’s government.
- The Europeans want to move their southern border from the northern edge of the Mediterranean Sea to the southern rim of the Sahara Desert.
- French military bases run across the Sahel, as the US builds an enormous base in Agadez (Niger) from where it will fly drones to provide aerial support.
- Agadez, where the US military is spending to build its drone base, sits at the crossroads of contemporary crises.
- Refugees come to it in desperation—their land made miserable by trade policies that discriminate against small farmers and by desertification caused by carbon capitalism.
- As the Sahel yields less from agriculture, some sections of the population have moved towards forms of smuggling. Narco-trafficking is a major problem in the region, with South American cocaine mafias now in residence in parts of this region.
- The UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimated that 30 tonnes of South American cocaine came across the Sahel to Europe.
- As the US government has made it difficult for cocaine to enter the US from Central America, the cocaine mafia has moved its operations to this central belt of Africa.
- Billions of dollars of cocaine now move through the Sahel into the Sahara and upwards to Europe.
- The pickup trucks that carry refugees and cocaine go past the town of Arlit, where French multinational corporations are harvesting uranium
- So here we have it: refugees, cocaine, uranium and a massive military enterprise.
For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW”.