Conservation At The Crossroads
August 2010: The author has tried honestly to document the steady decline of India’s forests and the biodiversity they once harboured. If her narrative sounds confused and contradictory in places, it is because of the conflicting circumstances that dominate India’s natural vistas, not an infirmity of analysis on her part.
The preface ‘Forests of the Living Dead’ graphically illustrates the culpability of both the Forest Managers of India who denuded what is now the Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary and the politicians who thought nothing of encouraging locals to exploit the forests so ruthlessly as to prevent the effective natural regeneration that might have taken place over time, had nature been allowed to repair and renew the land. She underscores the malaise that afflicts India’s biodiversity by identifying “The Monster of Development” as the primary “pernicious threat that hangs over the fate of our forests” and accurately goes on to list highways, dams, agriculture, plantations, mining and urbanisation. The book is a valuable critique of India’s current conservation strategies which are being pulled in different directions by the imperatives of populist politics, the press of commerce and the demand to allow humans to ‘coexist’ with wild species. I would say this is essential reading for all those engaged in protecting natural ecosystems. No one will argue against the author’s sane view that India needs “a mosaic of differing strategies in conservation,” including community-based conservation and strict nature protection at a landscape level. The unanswered question (not fair to ask it of an author actually) remains at the heart of the entire people and park debate: “Who decides the geography of conservation action?” The other contentious question, which the author (but not most human rights activists) seems to answer in the affirmative is this: “Do threatened species have any right to life at all?”
The lack of consensus on these basic questions is at the heart of the conflict between humans and nature. For all our flailing about, nature is not about to help us arrive at any conclusion through “judgement”. It dispenses justice through consequences alone.
Conservation At The Crossroads
By Ghazala Shahabuddin
Published by Permanent Black, Hard cover, Small format, 244 pages, Price: Rs. 595/-
HOT FROM THE PRESS
VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS
Edited by Prerna Singh Bindra
Published by Rupa & Co., Soft cover, small format, 237 pages with plates, Price: Rs. 395/-
An interesting compilation of contemporary wildlife writings, the book serves the useful purpose of drawing focus on the thoughts and strategies of individuals currently fighting to protect our vanishing natural heritage (apart from three pieces by the late M. Krishnan, F.W. Champion and Kailash Sankhala).
HISTORY AND HERITAGE OF INDIAN GAME HUNTING
By Sudipta Mitra
Published by Rupa & Co., Soft cover, small format, 403 pages with plates, Price: Rs. 395/-
Tracing the history of hunting from prehistoric times, the author has pieced together a useful compendium of research that throws light on both the values and the circumstances in which humans killed animals – first for survival, then for sport and glory and eventually as a “business bonanza.” The book concludes by bemoaning the fact that “as of today, the law is no real deterrent to ‘poaching’ and in a country of over a billion people it will chart out its own course. What is lost in the process is the art of game hunting. Perhaps for ever!”
Reviewed by Bittu Sahgal