Watching the Watchers: Surveillance technologies and forest labour in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, India

Authors: Trishant Simlai*,
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Environmental Science, Animal Geographies
Keywords: Conservation, Digital Technologies, Labour
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 4:50 AM / 6:05 AM
Room: Virtual 17
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Frontline forest staff are regarded as the backbone of conservation enforcement and management strategies worldwide. The last decade has seen a rapid rise in the use of digital technologies for conservation practice. A range of digital applications have been designed to aid frontline forest staff in their daily duties of patrolling and anti poaching efforts. In India, an application called M-STrIPES (Management System for Tigers- Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) is being used since 2010. The objective of the system is to increase the effectiveness of patrolling and strengthen surveillance by spatial analysis of ecological and anthropogenic information. It is claimed that the use of MSTrIPES has resulted in a significant check in illegal activities inside the tiger reserves of India. However, the application has significant social implications on forest staff that are using it daily as part of their duty. I argue that an increasing shift towards the use of such surveillance technologies in conservation and forest management activities is leading to increased vulnerability of frontline forest staff, mainly daily wage forest labourers. I also argue that these digital technologies are changing the nature of forest labour itself by causing increased automation and giving rise to a surveillance system that establishes discipline and control in the workplace. Finally, I argue that technologies designed and built with inadequate research and consultations, and without factoring in the social and ecological processes of a specific site contribute to the historical institutional devaluation of forest labour, in turn adversely affecting conservation practice.

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