Seeing green. Managing India's rich biodiversity is a political flash point.

Indian Activists Release Disputed Report

Staff Writer

NEW DELHI--Next week, an Indian advocacy group plans to release a massive report on biodiversity that the government commissioned but decided to shelve. It's the latest twist in a bitter battle over a 4-year study that the government once praised for its "highly participatory approach" and that outside experts see as a model for other nations.

The 1300-page report, entitled Securing India's Future--Final Technical Report of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, was commissioned in 2000 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to look at how the country should manage its rich biodiversity. It concludes that "India's model of development is inherently unsustainable and destructive to biodiversity." Needed improvements, it says, include more attention to the economic and human rights of traditional cultures and greater grassroots participation in government decisions that affect biodiversity.

Last December, ministry officials told Indian legislators that the report, which was submitted to the government early last year, should not be released because its "numerous discrepancies, scientific inaccuracies, and implausible and unacceptable recommendations" would subject the government "to great embarrassment and invite international ridicule and criticism." Shortly after, it wrote to Kalpavriksh, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Pune that has been a central player in the study, that the report "should not be published/distributed either in full or part thereof."

But Kalpavriksh plans to defy that order and release the report. "I don't see how such recommendations can damage India's reputation," says lead author Ashish Kothari, a sociologist working with the organization.

The report is part of India's obligatory response as a signer of the Convention on Biodiversity. The Global Environment Facility put up $1 million for the study, conducted through the India office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Kothari says that more than 50,000 people around the country were involved in the report, which includes both action plans and background papers.

UNDP's Jo Scheuer calls the process that produced the report "wonderful" and says it is regarded as an "international best practice" by the global biodiversity community. Ecologist Walter Reid, former director of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Science, 1 April, p. 41), says that the Indian exercise "is one of the few that's been taken seriously and had a chance of making a significant impact. It would be a real tragedy if it was not used."

Ministry officials declined further comment on the status of the report. Kothari says that the document to be released next week corrects a few dozen "factual mistakes" contained in the final version.

With reporting by Erik Stokstad.

Related sites
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Kalpavriksh

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