Rationalize sanctuaries

Jammu and Kashmir State has the privilege to have as many as 14 known and recognized Wildlife Sanctuaries. Out of these five sanctuaries are in Jammu and the remaining 9 are in Kashmir. These sanctuaries are looked after by the Wildlife Department. Under a Government order of 2007 the Wild Life Sanctuaries came under the administrative control of the State Forest Department. However, the original record of these sanctuaries, their exact location, geography and boundaries remain with the Revenue Department. Obviously, in the light of this situation all the three agencies namely the Wildlife Department, Forest Department and the Revenue Department are involved in the look after of these sanctuaries. As such cooperation and cohesion among the three agencies is of paramount importance to maintain and improve the sanctuaries. In fact, the Tourism Department also has to be the stake holder because many tourists would like to visit these sanctuaries provided normal facilities are provided to them.
The issue at stake is the boundary demarcation of these sanctuaries. It is a rather ticklish question. In the first place encroachment of the sanctuary lands has happened and the authorities including the revenue authorities have not paid attention to the menace at the very outset and thus those who made encroachments enjoyed a field day thinking that the Government is complacent and nobody was going to challenge them for illegally grabbing the land. When the demarcating process begins, it will try to go by the maps of the Revenue Department which generally have not identified the areas that have been encroached upon. At the same time, another situation is that there are families and households that have been residing within the premises of the sanctuaries. If the identified boundaries of the sanctuaries are to be fenced these dwelling places will come within the ambit of the sanctuaries. That will create an issue and maybe it runs into legal dispute. This is another aspect of the issue of fixing the boundaries of the sanctuaries. Therefore, the issue at hand is to ensure rationalization of boundaries of the wildlife sanctuaries and determine the rights of people living inside the protected areas. Astonishingly, this issue is pending in the State for past 10 years just owing to lack of coordination between Revenue and Wildlife Departments.
It has to be noted that according to a rough estimate based on revenue records, the total area of these sanctuaries in Jammu region computes to nearly 200 square kilometers. For protection of this large area, only 190 persons have been deployed. The question is can this number do justice to the type of the task assigned to them? Thus, we find that the authorities have to address two issues namely (a) forge cooperation between various agencies that have stakes in the wildlife sanctuaries and (b) to increase manpower for effective protection of sanctuaries.
In this background, we have the hunch that demarcation of boundaries of all the fourteen sanctuaries may be something difficult to attain in the way the Government may desire. Those household falling within the sanctuary limits have to be taken into confidence and their cooperation is to be sought. Antagonizing them is not at all advisable. We are confident that the Government is fully seized of the nuances of this issue and will not take any precipitate action so that the people are subjected to more desperation and uncertainty. Tourism Department must also be roped in so that a tourism touch is also given to these sanctuaries in due course of time.