HWC: The future of Human-Wildlife Conflict committees in the gewogs is uncertain with the agriculture ministry proposing to replace it with a different compensation scheme.

The Human-Wildlife Conflict committees also known as gewog environment conservation committees are formed with an initial seed money of Nu 0.5 million from the government to compensate in some form the loss of livestock or crops to wild animals.

There are 46 such committees formed in 15 dzongkhags across the country since the inception of the Human-Wildlife Conflict endowment fund in 2010. The forestry department has a target of establishing 126 such committees by the end of the 11th Plan from 11 in 2012.

However, the government did not allocate any budget in the 2016-17 fiscal despite the ministry having targeted to establish 36 more committees during the financial year.

Agriculture secretary Rinzin Dorji asked the government recently whether to replace it with an insurance scheme or proposed to drop it from the 2016-17 annual performance agreement his ministry signed with the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay called a meeting between the finance and agriculture ministries to decide on the issue. “If we decide to go with formation of the committees then we’ll have to support their formation with adequate support,” Lyonchoen said.

If the government decides to start insurance schemes, he said it has to draw a separate system altogether.

The indecision of the government has made some civil servants uneasy as evaluation of their performance is pegged with the achievements of APA targets.

The Trust Fund was established in seven gewogs in 2012, which reached 26 in 2013. As of 2015, a total of 56 gewogs have Trust Funds with amounts of between Nu 300,000 to 500,000 each. The money is maintained for payment of compensation to villagers affected by human-wildlife conflict.

To ensure that the compensation system sustained, villagers in the gewogs contribute to the Trust Fund. The contributions from villagers differ from each gewog depending on the number and breed of livestock they own.

For instance, Bjena gewog in Wangduephodrang has 400 households, 40 of which are members of the Trust Fund. They contribute Nu 100 a year as insurance for a breed and they receive Nu 1,000 as compensation for loses of that breed to the wild animals. Similarly Nu 150 for a breed is paid for which farmers receive Nu 1,500 in compensation, Bjena mangmi Kinley Tauchung said.

The State of the Parks 2016 report identifies human-wildlife conflicts as a recurrent threat to the management of the protected areas that make up more than 51 percent of the country.

Bhutan is the only country in the world which allows people to reside in protected areas and continue living in these areas following identification as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, strict nature reserves or any kind of protected area for conservation of wild flora or fauna.

Human-wildlife conflicts are today perceived as the major cause of poverty in rural Bhutan, the mitigation of which is given top priority in the 10th Five Year Plan of the government.

It is in this context the committees play a vital role in addressing the human-wildlife conflicts.

However, local leaders said there are awareness issues, which has hampered the success of the committees as people were reluctant to sign up. People coming to meetings might have not conveyed the message to the household so there is a lot of uncertainty among the villagers a mangmi said.

“We’ve deposited the fund in bank but we’re yet to finalise on the premiums and compensation payments as farmers are unsure of whether to sign up,” Goshing gup form Zhemgang, Sangay  Lethro said.

Wildlife conservation division chief Sonam Wangchuk said the ministry is not using the endowment fund and allowing it to grow.

“We’re also adding the entry fees from the Motithang Takin Preserve to the fund,” he said. He added that calling it compensation is misleading. “The amount from the committee is only to condone the tragic incident,” he said.

Zhemgang has the most committees with eight, while Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Haa, Tsirang, and Chukha have none.

A compensation system was put in place since 2003 after collecting a donation of Nu 10 million from foreign donors. However, the method of providing compensation was stopped two years later after it was found unsustainable.

Tshering Palden