Govt plans to manage ACAP draws criticismLocal communities have taken strong exception to the government draft proposal to take over the management of Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).
The country’s first conservation area and the largest undertaking of the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), ACAP was envisaged as a community based conservation and development approach, the management of which was to be eventually handed over to the local community.
Let alone acknowledge their efforts in conserving the area for over two decades, the government has by trying to take over the management of ACAP solely by itself made it clear that it plans to keep local communities away from the management of ACAP.
The strong community opposition came after a high-level team led by Braj Kishore Yadav, chief of Environment Division under the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) recommended an alternative management regime of ACAP in a shared draft of the regulations. The draft was shared among the key members of the local communities from five districts in the Western region that the protected area covers—- Manang, Mustang, Kaski, Lamjung and Myagdi.
The representatives from the seven Unit Conservation Offices (UCOs) under the ACAP management said the government is trying to lock them out from having their say in the control and ownership of the resources which they have been managing successfully since its inception in 1986.
“In the draft, there is clear domination of government and its officials in decision-making level and benefit sharing process. It has failed to ensure meaningful participation and authorisation of local communities over their resources as envisioned during the inception of ACAP more than two decades ago,” said Dal Bahadur Gurung, chair of Conservation Area Management Committee (CAMC) in Dhampus in Annapurna region.
There are altogether 57 CAMCs in each 57 VDCs led by local representatives within ACAP region.
Local communities have objected the proposed formation of a central commission to be headed by joint-secretary from the MoFSC, as they have been demanding such appointment should be made from among the locals along with one under-secretaries each in seven UCOs. The key management bodies are located in Ghandruk, Jomsom, Manang, Lho Manthang, Bhujung, Lwang and Sikles.
“We demanded the formation of a powerful institution led by locals to manage the ACAP,” said Kisam Gurung, a local from Ghandruk.
“But the government is trying to curtail the rights of locals and take over the management.”
Ganesh Raj Joshi, secretary at the MoFSC said that the draft is still under consideration and would be finalised through the active participation of the ACAP community.
“We have already asked the local representative to come up with their own management module within a month period and present it for further discussion,” he said.
The debate over the management of the ACAP started when the Baburam Bhattarai led government in 2012 decided to extend terms of management only for a period of six months to the NTNC. The local communities and the ministry itself had recommended its term to be extended for seven years.
The government’s decision came at a time when the NTNC requested the government to extend its management contract for the third time as the second tenure expired on July 19, 2012. Before this, two 10-year tenure extension provided to NTNC, in 1992 and 2002, had expired. Later, the government extended the tenure for only two years.
Conservationist Hum Gurung, who completed his PhD research on ACAP said, one of the options would be the formation of a Conservation Area Management Council through proper consultation with existing local conservation committees who will have full authority over the management of the area and its resources.
Likewise, the handover of the existing ACAP management team to the Council with full authority to collect conservation area entry fees from trekkers would be crucial in the sustainability of the protected area as well as welfare of the local communities dependent on its resources.
At present, with an annual turnover of 100,000 trekkers, the ACAP collects annual revenue of over 200 million rupees from entry fees.