1. Introduction – two approaches to conservation.
  2. Mention the main contentious provision of ESZ guideline.
  3. Elaborately discuss the local opposition taking an example.
  4. Conclusion.

The conservation debate has been broadly divided into two approaches on the role of human beings in conservation – (a) the exclusionary approach is based on the separation of human beings from nature; (b) the inclusive approach is based on the premise that conservation intricately depends on the relationship between human beings & their environment. The failure of exclusionary approach has laid stress on participatory models of conservation at present. In India, areas rich in biodiversity, particularly National Parks are governed largely by exclusionary approach – conflict among resident populations over restrictions affecting their livelihood, bringing socio-ecological changes in the region.

The ESZ dispute brings to light some critical issues of environmental regulation in India.

ESZ guidelines: the National Wildlife Action Plan stipulated that state governments should declare land falling within 10 km of boundaries of national parks / wildlife sanctuaries as eco fragile zones under the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986. ESZ’s purpose is to provide more protection to protected areas by acting as a transition zone. Now, this 10 km boundary encompasses many habitations and important cities, adversely affecting the developmental works. The protected areas are based on the core-buffer model – thus, a question arises, if parks already have buffer zones then why do we need ESZs ?

Local apprehensions : locals contend that buffer zones already restricts many activities; the existing park regulations have adversely affected their traditional practices. So, they believe that ESZ regulation will worsen their sustenance.

For e.g., the local communities under the ESZ Sangarsh Samiti in Corbett National Park have demanded scrapping the implementation of the guidelines and raising other livelihood issues. Different villages have joined the group based on issues impinging their survival & everyday needs. A reflection on them highlights the different social realities that environment regulations have created in the landscape.

  • The villages are of two types – traditional and other resettled from the core zone. The Traditional villages do not dispute over their status, are revenue villages. Some of the resettled villages have got the revenue village status, but others having forest village status have been fighting for revenue status. The status of forest village deprives them of many developmental activities – no schools, healthcare, electricity or water connection. Also, such villages are denied making pucca houses, claim dried or felled trees in their courtyard, make fencing around their houses or claim compensation for crop loss.
  • Few forest lands deemed as property of government, have been sold to private entities for making resorts, creating outsider intrusion. E.g. Dhikuli village – the dominance of mass tourism has rapidly increased land prices. Land prices in the area prior to ESZ was 50-60 lakh/bigha, which have increased manifold.
  • Many revenue villagers have profited from this but unknowingly or indirectly promoting unsustainable practices in the area. The ESZ did not permit change of land use from agriculture to commercial under the Zamindari Abolition Act, but when commercial use happened villagers became furious on the ESZ issue.
  • Although government has promoted ecotourismlittle has translated on ground. ESZ do not restrict current tourism practices or put restriction on vehicular pollution in the area.

Thus, locals have been made to sacrifice their rights & privileges, by privileging outside interests.

A deeper understanding shows the social changes due to modern environmental discourse, dominance of market in the form of tourism are disturbing local ecological & social realities in which locals play an active role. Simply scrapping ESZ will not resolve local socio-ecological issues. There is a need for rethinking the impacts of environmental policies at the local level, the prospects of local participation and most importantly, prospects of alternate income opportunities for successful conservation initiatives.


Approach :

  1. Introduction about Agnipath scheme.
  2. Briefly mention the key provisions.
  3. Point out the main criticisms.
  4. Mention the budgetary issue with modernization vs manpower.
  5. Mention the favoring views.
  6. Conclusion.

Indian cabinet has recently cleared the Agnipath scheme, terming it as a transformative reform in India’s armed forces. It will provide “unique opportunity to the youth to serve and contribute to nation-building”, making the armed forces youthful and dynamic. By recruiting ‘Agni veers’ in the age group of 17.5 to 23 years, it will make the Indian military “young & fit”. It also offers attractive financial package and adequate re-employment opportunities for those returning to society. The policy reads, “it will ensure availability of well-disciplined & skilled youth with military ethos in civil society”.

About Agnipath Scheme: the scheme is for personnel recruitment below officer rank for 4 years. Upon completion of 4 years, based on organizational requirements, Agni veers can apply for permanent enrolment in Armed Forces. Up to 25% of each batch will be enrolled in regular cadres. They would be required to serve a further engagement period of 15 years. Agni veers will be given an attractive customized monthly package with “Risk & Hardship” allowances as applicable. Each month they will contribute a fixed sum to a corpus fund with equal match by government. Upon completion, Agni veers will receive a one-time ‘Seva Nidhi’ package (approx. 11.71 lakh) comprising their contribution & govt contribution along with interests accrued. It is tax exempted. However, there shall be no gratuity or pensionary benefits.

Criticism Galore: many veteran armed personnel have criticized against the Agnipath scheme.

  • They raised concern that combat soldier cannot be trained in 4 years, and that the scheme can potentially compromise national security. The idea of shortened training indirectly trivializes the skill-sets for which the armed forces train their cadres so diligently.
  • Also, retrenching youth from the armed forces after 4 years can create security problems. Given the lesser experience, Agni veers are difficult to get absorbed into paramilitary forces. Mostly, the retired personnel cannot find respectable employment and hence, are entirely dependent on their pension and post retirement benefits to sustain; the Agni veers will lose that too. At a tender age, if unemployed, they can fall prey to crime syndicates, radical political outfits and rouge foreign intelligence agencies.
  • Trained in handling weapons and having basic knowledge of military establishments’ functioning, they can be real security threat; some more enterprising can join overseas mercenary groups and private military contractors.
  • No attention to detail, political logic overriding institutional sanity.

The move’s prime inspiration: the government is concerned that manpower costs are eating into the capital allocation of the armed forces to cover revenue demand. India’s defense budget is 5.25 lakh crore of which 1.2 lakh crore goes for pension component, let alone salaries. Estimates say, of the 44.37% earmarked for services’ revenue expenditure29.01% goes for meeting capital requirements, and 22.79% for defense pensions. The salaries + pensions account for 55.3% of the total revenue budget. This salaries & pension component has been steadily increasing.

Arguments in favor: Advocates argue that National defense budget management is essential for modernization of forces. There has to be a significant % for capital acquisitions. No major country can afford to have adverse capital to revenue expenditure and pension bill ratios. So, they say, the best way to achieve this is to reduce the workforce. Taking inspiration from all major armed forces across the world like China, Great Britain, US – who have cut their workforce in the last 25 years, India has embarked on downsizing its armed forces for ‘leaner, meaner army’.

But mean does not imply weaker military. The reduced workforce will leave more resources for capital expenditure towards new technologies and more intelligent systems like ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and unmanned systems to reduce casualties. With these, Indian armed forces can become more agile, flexible, lethal and innovative. Its extended technological edge can be more destructive than numerical strength.

The Armed Forces need support and reform. Agnipath may have come at a right time. A shift from reliance on personnel to technology and a younger age profile of soldiers are laudatory goals. But reforms should be governed by a sound sociological, professional, institutional and strategic logic.


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