KATHMANDU, July 28: After 25 years of continuous involvement in the country´s largest protected area, the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) has eventually lost its rights to manage Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).
In an unanticipated decision, the government has instructed the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) to come up with an alternative arrangement for managing the ACAP by ignoring NTNC´s demand for another 10-year-term extension to oversee the country´s first conservation area.
A cabinet meeting on Friday decided to allow NTNC to manage ACAP only for another six months.
ACAP is the largest undertaking of NTNC. Ever since its launch in 1986, ACAP has been managed by NTNC. For the first five years, ACAP was managed by NTNC as a pilot project. In 1992, NTNC secured a 10-year mandate for managing ACAP. In 2002, ACAP was handed over to NTNC for another 10 years. As its second term ended on July 19, NTNC demanded another 10-year mandate.
"It´s shocking," says Juddha Bahadur Gurung, member secretary of NTNC. "We had asked for a 10-year term. We had also submitted an action plan to hand over ACAP to the local community by 2022. But, the government abruptly took away ACAP."
According to Gurung, MoFSC had even recommended giving NTNC a new five-year term for managing ACAP. "The cabinet decision has tarnished our international image," says Gurung. "The government should have first drafted laws necessary for handing over ACAP to the local community. ACAP will now be in a mess."
Ram Prasad Lamsal, spokesperson for MoFSC, says the government stripped NTNC of its responsibility for managing ACAP since it failed to keep up its conservation spirit in the recent years. "Now, before the expiry of NTNC´s new six-month term, we will make a new arrangement," says Ram Prasad Lamsal, spokesperson for MoFSC. "The government will either take the responsibility in its own hands or will find an organization for this important job."
According to Dr Siddartha Bajra Bajracharya, executive officer of NTNC, 15 per cent of the total income generated from ACAP was being spent to meet the administrative expenses of the country´s pioneer conservation organization while the rest 85 per cent went back to the community.
"It will now be difficult for NTNC to bear its administrative expenses," says Dr Bajracharya. According to him, some 250 employees are now working for ACAP and they may have to lose their jobs after six months.
"The ACAP is the brainchild of NTNC," says Dr Bajracharya, adding, "Through the ACAP, we demonstrated, for the first time in Nepal, that a conservation area can be developed while allowing people to live there without even mobilizing the army. It´s a perfect example of community participation in conservation. The government´s decision is a huge setback to NTNC."
It is believed that NTNC increasingly lost its efficacy in recent months after Gurung and Dr Bajracharya continuously locked horns over who should lead the organization. Gurung now believes that a group favoring Dr Bajracharya lobbied to strip NTNC of ACAP. However, some NTNC officials say the government took the decision in response to NTNC chief´s unnecessary political appointments.
ACAP, which covers an area of 7,629 sq km, is inhabited by over 100,000 people belonging to various cultures and linguistic groups. It is also home to 1,226 species of flowering plants, 102 mammals, 474 birds, 39 reptiles and 22 amphibians.