Editorial, TigerLink-November 2013

It’s been a good––and newsy––six months since the last issue of TigerLink. The good news that I would like to start with is that India is on the verge of notifying at least four new tiger rMy beautiful pictureeserves: Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, Rajaji in Uttarakhand, Guru Ghasidas in Chhattisgarh and Navegaon-Nagzira in Maharashtra. Some like Mhadei in Goa may also hopefully see the light of day soon, while yet others like Sunebada in Orissa and Suhelwa (UP) unfortunately lie in abeyance…

It’s a tremendous contribution, committing land––habitat––to the tiger, with so many competing, compelling ‘uses’ to meet the needs and aspirations of our fast increasing population: agriculture, expanding urbanisation, industry, energy, roads, railways, mines… So, when the country and the states exhibit the vision to commit to the tiger, to understand that its forests gift us water and other ecosystem services that keep the nation alive (and yes, growing) … it is reason to rejoice. In the grim world of conservation, it is a ray of hope.

Yet,  even as I write this,…the tiger and other wild creatures are losing out to India’s ‘development’ agenda. As you will read in detail in this issue, regulations are being diluted, wildlife and forest laws bypassed and violations ignored as the MoEF, under various compulsions, lays out the ‘green’ carpet for projects demanding diversion of forest land and natural habitats. Forestland is being diverted on an average at 135 hectares per day. In the past year, the rate of clearances given has shot up by over 40 per cent.

At this rate, one would think that the rapid destruction of our forests and ecosystems has the country worried; but the furor in the media and the corridors of power is quite the contrary. Green laws are perceived as ‘hurdles’, and the tiger, an irritant on the joyride to growth. This, when over 90 per cent of projects are cleared. Significantly, the MoEF has cleared mining and power projects far beyond our targeted requirements, and the current energy and coal  potential lies vastly unutilised. Why, then, is there an escalating demand for forests for mines, power projects etc? The answer lies in the fact that such projects provide control of scarce and valuable natural resources–access to water and land. Currently, forest land is  the only land which lies  ‘unused’,  ‘unexploited’—and therein lies the rub. Big dams, highways, mines, are also very lucrative projects and are hence favoured. This is the state of affairs not only in India, but across the world as forests are being felled to enrich few, at the cost of biodiversity, and livelihoods.

So, do we really need fresh clearances, to destroy pristine wilderness, submerge forests? Does the ‘problem’ lie in the rate of clearances, or the implementation and efficiency of projects?

The other big story that has me alarmed is wildlife crime. Globally, endangered wildlife is being hammered at unprecedented scales. Here in India, the recent efforts of one state––Maharashtra––to crack down on wildlife crime have indicated, yet again, the extent and scale of the crime. We knew it. Of course, we always knew it. The fact that one trader caught here in Delhi has a network of poachers in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, etc along with links to the transit and consumer countries–Nepal, Tibet and China, is like a kick in the gut. How can the tiger survive this? With all our efforts, we are still so woefully unequipped to deal with this assault.

Globally, illegal wildlife trade is second only to arms and drugs, and its links to terrorism  are well-established, but we still fail to recognise its gravity.  It’s crucial, too, that we upscale and empower institutions  like Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, as well as the forest department,

I am glad to note that top world leaders, including from the US, UK and China have taken the urgency of tackling wildlife trade on board. Yet, I wonder, how much of this will translate to curbing the illegal trade in their own countries, given that China and the US are the biggest consumers of illegal wildlife derivatives. And what are their plans for the thousands of captive tigers (and other animals) in their custody that are known to fuel the trade?

Another issue that merits mention is voluntary relocation. What I find of particular note is that the ‘relocation agenda’ largely perceived to be a wildlife conservation initiative, is now being driven by communities themselves. This is a significant shift. I have witnessed it personally across parks—communities fatigued by constant human-wildlife conflict, enduring hardships without basic amenities in remote wilderness, are desperate to move out.  Many forest dwellers have petitioned governments; still others are knocking at the courts’ doors.

Unfortunately, this is being inordinately delayed for want of funds. Unacceptable, when we have humongous amounts sitting in CAMPA. CAMPA is blood money—‘compensation’ cash, if you please, in lieu of forests  diverted and destroyed for mines, infrastructure, industry –or any such activity.  Worse, a chunk of this lies largely untilised, or is being misused.

Why then are we not channelling this fund—not just to create inviolate wildlife habitats that are central to conservation, but importantly, which has at its heart the objective of welfare of marganlised communities.

 

Prerna Singh Bindra

 

(the photograph is from Chilla in Rajaji, and is courtesy WII and the state forest department, Uttarakhand

 

3 Responses to “Editorial, TigerLink-November 2013

  • very informative article…maharashtra is using campa funds for village relocation…..

  • This is a beautifully written plea for India’s priceless forests and wildlife, but how many of those in positions of influence have read it? Is it not time to call in the well-equipped and highly motivated Indian Army to patrol the forest areas against poachers? It would provide excellent training for the soldiers, as well as making the poachers think twice before entering protected forests.

  • Good editorial Prerna!
    The tiger unfortunately has one too many foes and far few defenders. Wish, if time could be ‘fast forward’ed and the current policy makers and decision makers are replaced by a much younger, better informed minds.

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