Conservation and Community Wealth Creation in India: Challenges and Way Ahead, PRP 210

Eaton, David
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LBJ School of Public Affairs

This report outlines challenges for resettlement and wealth creation strategies for the Van Gujjars, a nomadic tribe active across several states of northern India. This report can serve as a framework for the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and other stakeholders to determine a feasible and inclusive way ahead for the Van Gujjar tribe in the Uttarakhand State of India. There are both opportunities and barriers for tribal wealth creation in response to recent Indian federal and state conservation policies that have limited the Van Gujjars’ nomadic practices. This report’s recommendations align with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG), which includes 17 areas of sustainable human and economic development. There are immediate short-term needs for the Van Gujjar, including primary education, access to healthcare and services, clarification of their legal status, and partnerships to increase value of traditional livelihoods. There are potential long-term wealth creation opportunities for the Van Gujjar in both forest management and ecotourism. These long-term opportunities align with conservation future goals—SDGs—and integrate with the Van Gujjars’ skills, attitudes, and cultural preferences. Van Gujjar resettlement could be more successful than previous resettlement iterations in Pathri and Gaindi Khata, India. If combined with sustainable wealth generation options. Resettling Van Gujjar families around the Rajaji National Tiger Reserve (RNTR) may create a pastoral buffer to insulate protected areas from increasing urbanization and development impacts on wildlife conservation. This concept aligns with current policy efforts in India toward ecosensitive areas but also integrates principles of community-centric conservation. Van Gujjar communities possess unique skills and strong traditional knowledge of the forest that can contribute to conservation goals through proper education, vocational training, mentorship, access to capital, and institutional support. This report’s findings and policy recommendations are listed in Table 6.1 and Table 6.2. This report incorporates data collected as the result from field work in Uttarakhand in March 2019, including informal interviews with Van Gujjar families and heads of households living inside protected areas (PA) and in the settled village of Gaindi Khata. Fieldwork in India also included interviews with stakeholders regarding historical and current resettlement efforts, wildlife conservation policies, and possible sustainable wealth-creation opportunities. Two case studies on successful strategies of pastoral resettlement from India and China enhanced the fieldwork. Improvement in the lives of the Van Gujjar tribes may benefit from creative efforts with resettlement policies. Previous resettlement efforts sought with limited success to achieve both conservation and human development goals. Linking wildlife conservation and forest-dwelling community needs may be possible but is likely to require sustained political attention, institutional reforms, and adequate resource allocation, including financial and technical support. Coordinated collaboration among many public agencies and appropriate nongovernmental organizations could enable RNTR to become an example for effective community conservation in other protected areas in India and across the globe.