A Wild Idea: Privatise the Jungles

Privatising India's jungles may help in saving wildlife

Published: Jul 24, 2009 02:00:00 PM IST
Updated: Feb 21, 2014 11:42:47 AM IST

A spotted deer somewhere in Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh senses a movement behind the bushes. Instinct suggests it could be a tiger. The deer sprints away in alarm.

Its fear was unfounded. For the past several months, there has been no tiger in Panna. Years of incessant poaching has ensured that. News reports said 45 tigers have been killed in the country in 2009 alone, taking the toll beyond 100 in the last three years. With fewer than 1,500 tigers left in the wild and no letup in poaching, the species is dangerously close to extinction. Lions, rhinoceros and a number of other animals are doing no better.

The jokers in the pack, of course, are the wildlife authorities. Forestry and wildlife conservation in India are run like a sick public sector unit. The problems are the same. Lack of resources or leadership, inadequate and inefficient staffing, bureaucracy, corruption and official apathy. “The official agencies that are meant to protect our wild habitats are ill-equipped and not trained with latest techniques of anti-poaching as well as habitat management,” says Nirmal Kulkarni, an ecologist based in Goa.

So, what if India’s wild is privatised just like the government would do in the case of a badly run, loss-making PSU? To many, this might evoke the image of greedy, manipulative businessmen who butcher animals and plunder the forests. But plundering and poaching already thrive under the government’s watch. Privatisation can be more responsible and regulated.

Actually, privatisation of forests is nothing new. A host of countries including South Africa, Australia, Canada and Bulgaria have done so. Their objective was to exploit resources such as timber, fish and even animals in some case. India’s objective should be conservation.

The starting point for the government must be to corporatise the jungles. That is, each national reserve should be brought under the structure of a government-owned company, which will lease the forests to private firms for fixed periods.

The government must create environmentally sustainable revenue streams from the jungles to make the enterprise profitable. Obviously, jungle tourism will play a big part here. The fringes could also be used to produce cash crops. In addition, the forests could be used for producing renewable energy through wind and solar sources.

The private companies will have to protect the flora and fauna. The government enterprise holding the forests would rake in all the revenue and give a share to the private parties based on an “animal bank” or “biodiversity bank”. The same forest could be privatised to different parties, by parcelling rights such as tourism, cultivation and energy separately.

In fact, privatisation of the wild is supported the world over by Libertarian politicians. They even support farming of tigers. The US Libertarian Party Web site asserts that in Zimbabwe, where private ownership of elephants is allowed, their number increased from 30,000 to 43,000 between 1979 and 1989.

Private companies will bring in the capital required to fence forests, replace old, weak-legged guards with a proper wildlife security force, do reliable audits of animals, tackle spread of diseases and boost tourism revenue for the country.

(This story appears in the 31 July, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Sharada Annamaraju

    Being outside the periphery of the sanctuaries, the private firms have wreaked enough harm. Once in, with a higher hand over the natural resources etc, one can only imagine what horrors they can unleash upon their whims.

    on Aug 24, 2009
  • kshitij nayak

    yes sir, ur article is true and human change of the body and create animal body, so its connected like a new joke a baby fish asked her mother: why cant we live on Earth? Mother fish: Earth is not the place for fish, its made for selfish humans............

    on Jul 30, 2009
  • Soumyajit

    Privatisation might be a good idea but using the forest fringes for cultivation and inside areas for energy production is not. Cash crop cultivation in fringes means a settlement there and once people start using that place misuse also starts like illegal cattle grazing inside the park at the buffer zone, illegal collection of forest products from buffer zone etc. In a way that will put tremendous pressure on the buffer zone. Also the need for today is more forest land and safe animal movement corridor. Once there are activities like this in the fringes there would be no further scope of increasing the PA and eventually the migration corridors also will get detached. A settlement on the fringes means more human animal conflict like crop raiding by elephants, wild boars etc. which would generate negative repurcussions. Also using the forest land for generating energy is entirely a bad idea as this is again a supplement to that so called economic developments inside the forest land. A windmill like thing is very dangerous for the birdlife in close vicinity and the high tension wirelines through a forest means fragmentation of the habitat. For example a species like Lion Tailed Macaque dwells only on tree tops and move along that. A high tension wire through their habitat will force them to get restricted to a specific zone which will result in in-breeding. Even projects like dam for hydro-electric power also will result in similar consequences with degradation of the habitat.<br /> The need for today is to just leave the protected areas apart and not to do any kind of activities there. Even wildlife tourism to some extent is harmful. That too needs to be controlled severely. If we are successful in proving a safe habitat our wildlife is well capable of bouncing back to a healthy population. Just that they don't need our interferences like these. Given these facts I don't know how many private companies would like to invest large amounts and take up the charge of each forest land as they would not be able to make any profit out of it!!!!!

    on Jul 27, 2009
  • Subrat

    Why don't we privatise our democracy, our parliament... that will solve all the problems, not just the ones relating to wildlife... more so, privatise family planning; companies will decide when you conjugate and when you conceive and when you deliver... that will solve the problem of population control... has the author of this childish article ever heard of the adivasis; they had kept the forests inviolate for millennia, not only for the wildlife but also for all kinds of natural resources, plundering which the corporate sector is now breeding this kind of retarded mindset... if you actually have to privatise the forests, leave it to the adivasis... no one else knows how to keep the sanctity of a forest... well, the money you are lured at, will not come by this... but, how does it matter, as you say, conservation is primary... or did you actually talk only about the money? i heard, conservation!

    on Jul 27, 2009
  • Dayani Chakravarthy

    i think everybody interested in wildlife conservation goes through this phase. but it is a very amateurish attitude, and definitely need more reading as to what is possible in india and what is not. if the main purpose you lease out your forest is conservation, then why make money out of it. have you ever thought about leasing out the defense sector because it doesn't make money? same goes here. all our forests need is good protection, and that we can get by lobbying for it properly. sidelining the main issue of protection, and discussing other stuff is actually bad for conservation, we have wasted far too much time and effort in debating impractical ideas. right now, the time is to lobby for protection within the present system. with no distractions

    on Jul 25, 2009
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