It was a moment of rare honour for Sabitri Patra and Gopal Chandra Mandal — two conservationists from remote villages near Niyamgiri hills and Sunderbans in Odisha and West Bengal respectively. They were invited by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and officially registered by its Secretariat to participate in its meetings in Montreal from October 7 to October 18.
As per the agreement between the CBD Secretariat and the Canadian Government, the visa of the participants is to be promptly processed free of cost. To their surprise, the duo had to pay for their visa applications, which were rejected on grounds that they possessed insufficient funds in their personal account.
While Gopal is actively involved in restoration of mangrove ecology and developing community-owned mangrove forests in the vicinity of local villages, Sabitri had been working with the Kutia Kondh communities (particularly vulnerable tribal Group) near Niyamgiri hills. She had even participated in the 2012 CBD summit in Hyderabad.
“I was all set to board my flight on Thursday, but just a day before I got a letter from Canada Citizenship and Immigration office saying my application had been rejected,” Gopal said. “I was told I did not have sufficient funds, income or assets… to maintain myself in Canada,” he added.
While the visa officer also considered that the application had not clarified the “Purpose of Visit,” Gopal had a registration letter signed by the Executive Secretary of the CBD confirming that he “has been officially nominated to attend” the concerned CBD meetings.
He also had another letter from a sponsor confirming to cover all his expenses during his stay in Canada. Further, even the return air ticket was furnished along with the application. However, in spite of all these documents, they rejected the visa.
For her part, Sabitri also faced a similar plight. “Poor persons like us cannot hope to go to Canada,” an upset Sabitri said.S Faizi, ecologist, chairing the Board of CBD Alliance and specialising in International Environmental Policy, said, “Canada has breached the headquarters’ Agreement it has signed at the highest level with the United Nations Environment Programme for hosting the CBD Secretariat.”