The Access Initiative

Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in Madagascar

In Madagascar, the Protected Areas Law (COAP) mandates the manager of national parks (MNP) to manage and run conservation activities within and outside the park. Two decades ago, the manager enacted an internal decision by the Board of the Directors, that local communities can benefit 50% of the park entrance fees and can use the funds to development or agricultural activities. 20 years later, the MNP changed its mind and stopped allocating the 50% to the local communities stating that the funds need to be used to support the creation and extension of other protected areas. This change has had negative impacts on the development of local communities. The object of our Campaign is to ensure that the benefit of 50% from the park entrance fees would be recognized by the Protected Areas Law (COAP) and its implementing decrees as a right and not as a favor to assure an equitable sharing of the benefits from the conservation of protected areas. When the local communities utilize their rights, they contribute positively to the conservation of the protected areas.


Protect Our Elephants and Save the Pangolin

Protect Our Elephants

The Uganda Wildlife Authority is mandated to ensure sustainable management of wildlife resources and supervise wildlife activities in Uganda both within and outside the protected areas. Yet during an audit at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), it was found that some of the ivory that had been seized from poachers and wildlife traffickers since 1990 and stored in UWA strong rooms was missing. A total of 1,335kg of ivory which was estimated to be worth $1.1m (sh3b) was stolen.

President Yoweri Museveni upon receiving reports of the eminent ivory thefts asked the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to investigate the disappearance of the ivory. “We support the President’s decision for the IGG to takeover investigations of the 1,335kg of ivory that was stolen from the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s strong room. The report of the stolen ivory that has been in UWA’s possession for years is a sign that the governing body meant to regulate wildlife conservation in Uganda has not been spared by the corruption scandals that have marred many government institutions.” Investigations revealed that there were loopholes within UWA and some of the staff was involved in the ivory scam leading to the suspension of the Executive Director Mr. Andrew Seguya.

This action was supported by Greenwatch. It illustrates why implemention of the UWA is essential to the protection of Ugandan elephants.

The investigations are still ongoing and Greenwatch has created an online campaign to generate pressue to ensure the UWA does a better job in fulfilling its mandate.

Save the pangolin

Unfortunately it is not just elephants that are facing danger. A few weeks after the ivory scandal, New Vision carried a feature showing that UWA and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was issuing, export licenses to one Smith Ewa Maku and Smico Skin Craft industries to export seven tonnes of pangolin scales worth $4.2m (shs11b). The export of seven tonnes of pangolin scales came at a time when concerns are rising that the pangolins, which are regarded as rare animals (under Appendix2 of CITES) are being pushed into extinction.

The willingness of UWA to issue a license for export of pangolin scales of such magnitude showed the institution’s reluctance in fulfilling its mandate of preserving, protecting and conserving wildlife in trust for the people of Uganda. For one to acquire pangolin scales, they have to have killed the animal; therefore UWA licensing the export of these scales would tantamount to licensing the killing of the pangolins which contravenes the provisions of Articles 39 and 237(b) of the constitution of Uganda. It is absurd that instead of UWA fighting such people, it was working with them.

Greenwatch sued UWA in order for court to issue a permanent injunction stopping UWA or its agents from issuing licenses for export of pangolin scales. Uganda Wildlife Authority should have desisted from participating in matters that encourage depletion of our wildlife resources. Licenses should only be issued to preserve, protect and conserve wildlife and not the reverse.

Part of the suit read that, “Upon carrying out further investigation, we found that a licence to purchase game trophy had been issued to Smith Ewa Maku,” “The Convention on International Trade, to which Uganda is a signatory, prohibits trade in pangolin scales. The Game Act lists pangolin as endangered species and as such the entity has no power or authority to issue licences or export of their scales. A kilogramme of pangolin scales which can only be obtained from one adult or two young ones is worth Shs1,704,000 and has a very attractive market in China and other Asian countries.”

The matter is still in court.  However, due to the advocacy work around the issue by concerned citizens and environmentalists like Greenwatch and media the license was canceled.

Accès à la justice: Cas du braconnage d’Angonaka dans le Parc.National Baie de Baly District Soalala -Région Boeny

Published: 2011

L’étude de cas « braconnage et exploitation illicite de l’Angonoka dans le Parc National de Baie de Baly » fait partie des études de cas en matière d’accès à la justice, et fait partie des douze cas d’études, retenues par la Coalition TAI Madagascar, validées par le Comité de Pilotage, pour faire la situation en matière d’Initiative d’Accès (IA). L’étude a été confiée à l’équipe de chercheurs issus des institutions membres de l’Alliance Voahary gasy (AVG) : SAGE (Service d’Appui à la Gestion de l’Environnement) et AIFM (Association des Ingénieurs Forestier Malagasy).

Malgré la mise en place d’une Aire Protégée créer principalement pour la conservation de l’Angonoka, le Parc National de Baie de Baly (créé en 1997 par le décret n° 97 – 1452 du 18/12/97), cette tortue de tortue à éperon (Geochelone yniphora (Angonoka) à haute valeur de protection, classée comme « gravement menacée », fait toujours l’objet d’un braconnage et d’exportation illicite vers l’Asie (Thaïlande, Malaisie). Dans la lutte contre le braconnage d’Angonoka, y a-t-il eu prise en compte et application effective d’une justice environnementale et d’accès à la justice pour les acteurs de la préservation de cette espèce endémique ?

les objectifs de l’étude sont d’identifier les lacunes dans les lois, les institutions et les pratiques sur l’accès à l’accès à la justice par rapport à la lutte contre le réseau de braconnage à l’exportation illicite de l’Angonoka, une espèce endémique gravement menacée de disparitiona et de fournir des recommandations pour combler ces lacunes sous forme de plan d’action pour l’éradication de l’exportation illicite à titre de solution apportée pour aborder les principales faiblesses et qualité de la loi et de la pratique institutionnelle.


Published: 2008

Locked up, hungry and confused, the two young men from the Molboc Tribe were finally released. They do not regret what they did. They will likely do it again if they have a chance to do so… just to put food on the table, as how their ancestors, as native fisherfolk in Balabac, Palawan, had done before.

For over two decades, members of the Molboc tribe, as well as local communities in the southern Palawan of town of Balabac, have had to endure harassment and ill-treatment from the security forces of a pearl farm corporation, which was prohibiting them, unjustly, and without any legal basis, from fishing in their traditional fishing grounds.

Calls for the local government unit (LGU) to mediate and facilitate a system for the peaceful co-existence of the pearl farm and the fisherfolks were ignored. Instead, in early 2005, the Municipality of Balabac enacted an ordinance declaring the entire municipal waters as a “Protected Eco-Region”, where fishing activities are prohibited but pearl farming is allowed.

The Ordinance came to pass notwithstanding the constitutional mandate of substantive and procedural due process, and the various legal provisions of guaranteeing citizen’s right to informed and meaningful participation in the formulation of policies concerning the management and conservation of their community’s natural resources.

In 2005, TAI – Philippines conducted a case study following the TAI Methodology that focused on (a) public access to information on the grounds for the Subject Policy, and (b) the opportunities for participation extended to the public in the enactment of the Subject Municipal Ordinance. Primarily, the actions of two government agencies – the LGU of Balabac and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) of Palawan, which reviewed and approved the Subject Municipal Ordinance – were evaluated. A total of 43 indicators (20 for access to information and 23 for opportunities for participation) were examined.

TAI – Philippines also conducted a re-assessment of the case focusing on access to justice as one of the pilot case using the Poverty Tool Kit. It was written from the point of view of the poor groups, small fishers and indigenous peoples in the Balabac case.

The importance of access to information and opportunities for participation cannot be overemphasized in this case. Given the affected communities’ history of disenfranchisement and repression, any environmental measure that would have the effect of depriving them of their traditional fishing grounds, or restricting their use of the same, requires intensive social preparation.

Widespread information dissemination and extensive community consultations must be undertaken not only to ensure that the proposed policy will be understood and well received by the individuals and communities affected, but also to make sure that substantive rights are not run over rough shod, and equity in access is ensured.

In this case, not only did the Municipality of Balabac fail to observe the foregoing processes, it also adopted a policy, purportedly for environmental protection purposes, that goes against international principles, Philippine statutory provision and established coastal resource management practices (i.e., it allowed pearl farming in a core or strict protection zone). The confluence of these circumstances has given rise to a public perception, whether rightly or wrongly, that the Subject Policy was adopted solely to accommodate Jewelmer’s Co. (the pearl farm) interests and to legitimize the prohibition that it has, for many years, foisted upon the affected communities without the sanction of law.

As things stand, it appears that the court case is the affected communities’ last remaining legal remedy. However, given the existing realities, resort to judicial action has not proven to be a speedy and adequate remedy. To date, the case remains pending, almost one year since its inception, and the Affected Communities continue to languish in poverty as they await its resolution.

It may be concluded that this predicament can be attributed to two main factors, namely: (a) gaps in existing laws; and (b) the failure of political will, the lack of a deep-seated orientation on, and capacity to implement, principles on access to information and opportunities for participation, on the part of the concerned government agencies.

It is hoped that policy reforms, enforcement actions and capability building measures, if implemented, will not only provide the affected communities with means for immediate relief, but will also prevent other IPs and fishing communities from being placed in a predicament similar to theirs, and render the processes involved less susceptible to manipulation to favor vested interests.

TAI – Philippines Case Study Writer: Atty. Jose Florante Pamfilo

See: TAI – Philippines Poverty Case Report
TAI – Philippines Case Study attached.

Tribals Fight for Access Rights in North East India

By Ritwick Dutta (August 16, 2008) 

There are reasons to smile for the members of the Idu Mishmi community in the North Eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh located in the Himalayan Mountain Ranges: The Government on 13-08-08 has cancelled the proposed Public Hearing for the proposed 3000 MW Hydel Power Dam to be located in Dibang District of Arunachal Pradesh.

For more than a year, local tribal communities have been protesting against the dam touted to be among the highest in the Country on the ground that it woud devastate the fragile ecology and destroy the culture and livelihood of the Idu Mishmi Community numbering only 8000 Individuals.

The Dibang Dam is a classic instance of a fight of a local community for access to Information and Participation and a partial victory of the community. When the first Public Hearing was announced, local tribal community sent a legal notice through Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) requesting for postponement of the hearing in view of the fact that the Environment Impact Assessment Report was not available at designated places and only an electronic version was made available in a state where people hardly had access to Internet. The Government relented and directed that no Public Hearing be conducted till the required EIA Reports are made available at the designated places for access to the community. The Public Hearing was planned over two phases. The first Public Hearing saw large scale protests by community members.

As the Public Hearing process was underway, in a shocking development aimed clearly at undermining the Public consultation process, the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh decided to lay the foundation stone for the project at Itanagar, the State Capital located more than 500 Km from the project site ! This was met with stiff opposition both locally and nationally.

Finally, the date for the second Public Hearing was fixed on 20-8-2008. However, the community was shocked to learn that the place for conducting the Public Hearing was more than 100 Km from the affected villages and project site. The Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 provides for conducting the Public Hearing in or in proximity to the project site. In the North Eastern Part of the country characterized by undulating terrain and heavy rainfall travelling 100 Km could very well take even upto a day’s journey.

The Community members with the support of Neeraj Vagholikar of NGO Kalpavriksh contacted Rahul Choudhary, Environmental lawyer and member of TAI Himalayan Coalition who immediately shot off a legal notice during the first week of August, 2008 citing violation of Principles of Natural Justice and provisions of the EIA procedure by conducting the Public Hearing at such a distant place which would make it difficult for the affected community to participate and thereby defeating the whole purpose of Public Hearing.

See also A Public Hearing without the ‘real’ public: Notes from TAI Himalayas

On 13th August, Community members were pleasantly surprised to know that the proposed Public Hearing has been cancelled. Even more important was the fact that the Chief Minister of the State has called for a meeting with all the concerned organizations who have been raising the issue with respect to the Dam to be held on 20-8-2008.

The happenings in the far eastern State of Arunachal has important lessons for the rest of the Country. The community is convinced that there is no use of Public Consultation unless it is based on adequate and proper information about the dam and its impact and the fact that people should be able to participate effectively in the Public Hearing. Easy access to the place where the Public Hearing is conducted is as important as access to information. In the absence of these pre conditions, the Public Hearing process becomes a mere formality and procedure to be accomplished in the EIA process. For the Idu Mishmi Community, it is their first step in securing their access rights.

Ritwick Dutta Ritwick ( is the leader of the TAI Himalayan Coalition and the founder of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) and is based in New Delhi

The Grass is Going to be Greener This Year!

Posted By Ritwick Dutta (July 20, 2008) 

The benefit of Right to Information and citizens’ participation in environmental issues is not just limited to NGO’s and citizens. It can also be of great help to government officers, especially to those trying to implement the law and Judgments of Court but who face resistance from other departments.

The recent instance in the famous tea-growing Darjeeling Hills in India provides an interesting example. As the example of Darjeeling shows, the petitioner got the relief even before the case was heard by the Supreme Court special committee on Forests, in view of the strong evidence obtained through the Right to information Act, 2005.

The issue relates to an ecologically fragile part of the Himalayas located in Darjeeling viz the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to several endangered species. A part of the Sanctuary comprising grasslands was used for dumping old vehicles by the local government, namely the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. The dumping encroached upon 20 acres of land of the Protected Area. This was done in violation of the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and even the orders of the Supreme Court.

The dumping of vehicles continued until April 2008. The forest officer in charge of the Sanctuary, Ms Sumita Ghatak, directed the Hill Council to remove the vehicles. The Hill Council resisted, and continued to dump its old vehicles thereby polluting and destroying the fragile ecology. The orders from the Forest Department not only met with strict resistance but also led to the Hill Council making a formal complaint before the government for strict action against the Forest Officer for harassment and undermining the authority of the Council.

It was at this moment that conservation groups and concerned citizens got together. Using the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005, local citizens obtained all interdepartmental correspondence which revealed a shocking level of arrogance of the Hill Council to the provisions of law and to the orders of the Supreme Court. It was clearly seen that the manner in which the Hill Council responded to the direction of the Forest Officer, prima facie constituted contempt of the Court. The Hill Council sought to overlook the provisions of all conservation laws.

Using the various information obtained under RTI, a petition was filed by Wildlife Trust of India, a national level NGO, before the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court asking for initiation of contempt proceedings against the Principal Secretary of the Hill Council. As is required by the Court procedure, a copy of the petition was sent to the Hill Council.

Surprisingly, within three days of receiving the copy of the petition and without even the case coming up for hearing, the Hill Council wrote to the Forest officer that in view of the petition filed in the CEC, the Hill Council would like to surrender the entire 29 acres immediately and also take away all the vehicles dumped by it!

Within days (first week of May 2008), the vehicles were removed. The land is now back with the wildlife and Forest Department.

Is this a case of effective judicial remedy, or the benefits of RTI, or responsive civil society intervention? Well, it is a mix of all and the beneficiary is obviously the wildlife of Darjeeling hills which will get to munch in an extra 29 acres of grassland free of rusting vehicles!

Contributed by Ritwick Dutta (with inputs from Vyom Raghuvanshi, WTI) Ritwick ( leads the TAI Himalayan Coalition and filed the above mentioned petition on behalf of Wildlife Trust of India.

A Public Hearing Without The ‘Real’ Public: Notes From TAI Himalayas

By Ritwick Dutta (Posted: July 13, 2008)

The TAI assessments in Northern India were conceptualized as Research for Action and not just plain academic research. As planned, the action would take place once the research findings and assessments are completed. However, we are happy to share this story on how action seems to have started before the assessments are completed!

The field study for the two northern Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are at advanced stages. As part of our field assessments, the TAI research team had to visit the picturesque remote town of Pithoragarh, Uttrakhand. Sharing its border with Nepal, the task of the TAI team was to assess the emergency response system especially with respect to access to information for a Hydel Power project in operation.

The team interviewed local community members informed by local activist Ramnarayan about a Public Hearing to be held within the next two days for a proposed Hydel Power Project called the Rupsiyabagar-Khasiabara of the National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (NTPC). The villagers knew very little about the project and its implication and Ramnarayan has been guiding them in making them aware of their rights.

The TAI Research team which comprised a group of three environmental lawyers immediately worked out a strategy with local activist Ramnarayan. A copy of the EIA report was immediately procured which before now was not made available, and a rapid critique of it was prepared based on consultation with the local community. TAI researchers assisted the local groups in preparing representations before the concerned authorities.

The most disturbing aspect which was raised by local groups was the fact that the Public Hearing was being held at a time when most of the villagers have gone to the higher altitudes to collect medicinal plants, grazing as well as collecting a extremely valuable Yarsagumba’ Cordyceps sinesis : a highly priced Fungi which is much in demand in Chinese medicine. In fact, almost all the villagers in the 6-8 villages in the project area had gone for collection of medicinal plants. Further, the EIA document was made available over 150 Km away (in difficult terrain, this could take a lot of time given a weak network of roads).

From the biodiversity point of view, the area is the home to the endangered Musk Dear besides other Himalayan Species. The EIA has failed to take these factors into account.

The Public Hearing on 11-6-2008 at Munsiary met with stiff resistance. Most of the people opposed the Public Hearing since it was meaningless in view of the affected community not being present and the required document not being made available. Predictably, some of the village leaders supported it in view of the petty and short term contracts they are to get. The Public Hearing was scheduled at 11 AM, and just at the start of the public hearing the locals got hold of dais and asked the panel members of the public hearing to postpone the hearing.

For almost three hours the hearing was stalled, and then the panel of the Public Hearing decided to postpone it. However the NTPC (the Project proponent) gave the presentation highlighting the benefits of the project but very obviously ignoring the negative impacts of the projects. No questions or objections were raised to the panel members as the public was told that this public hearing is postponed and it will be held again in October when the villagers are back. 

The very next day on June 12, 2008 it was reported in the newspaper like ‘Amar Ujala’ and ‘Rashtriya Sahara’ that the public hearing was postponed due to protest. But the NTPC did not allow the media to ruin their plan to show the public hearing of June 11 as the final hearing to get the Environmental Clearance. The very newspaper ‘Amar Ujala’ which reported that the Public Hearing was postponed published an advertisement in its 13th June edition, that the public hearing was held for the Rupsiabagar – Khasiabara Hydro Electric Project amidst protest. This is clearly an indication that the NTPC will submit this as a final Public Hearing, showing the Ministry of Environment & Forest that the project was supported by the locals. TAI-Himalayan Coalition will be assisting the local groups in ensuring that the affected communities are heard and the ecology protected.

Public Hearing such as these become unfortunately a stage-managed show. Unless there is active and meaningful involvement of the people in the decision making process, the implementation of Principle 10 at the local level is still a far away. Yet, as the happening at Munsiary, Uttarakahnd show, local people if effectively informed and supported do have the capacity to raise critical question on the wisdom of the project and the purpose of such so-called Public Hearing. Earlier, the local people would have been silent or ‘silenced’ spectators to environmental vandalism. Today, the engagement of civil society as well as greater access to information is opening new vistas of engagement and at times resistance. Governments and Corporations cannot delay for long the voices from the field.

Ritwick Dutta Team Leader: TAI Himalayan Coalition