Condemned By Government Policy
The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has in the past had some of the most illustrious names serving on it. People like E. P. Gee, R.S. Dharmakumarsinhji, Anne Wright, M. Krishnan, Sálim Ali and Kailash Sankhala helped write both the policy and strategy for wildlife in India. It is largely thanks to them and scores of others that the Protected Area network and the ethic of wildlife conservation that we inherited was built. But today, on our watch, we are seeing all this dismantled. Those of us who are on the NBWL today bear the burden of a vital legacy that we must somehow uphold.
In recent times, the NBWL has been reduced to a mere formality. A rubber stamp for India’s industrial ambitions. It is in the advanced stages of decay. At the 22nd Standing Committee Meeting of the NBWL on April 25, 2011, Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment and Forests, once a staunch defender of the environment, attempted to hammer through approvals of 59 projects within 2.5 hours. To a large extent he succeeded. He later made public the fact that such clearances were “under pressure”. This should be regarded by all those who understand the umbilical connection between wildlife, ecosystems and human survival as the last straw.
Clearly the primary threat to our wildlife now comes from the Government of India itself. It is OUR government and somehow we must find within us the unity, will, resolve and strategy to correct the counterfeit development options that our leaders are condemning us to take. We have no option but to force this change on our planners because failure would not merely mean the loss of Panthera tigris, or Elephas maximus but the snapping of the very backbone of the people of this subcontinent.
New and young NWBL members such as Kishor Rithe, Biswajit Mohanty and Prerna Bindra are doing what they can with dissent notes and private angst but they do not yet have the requisite clout or experience to deal with the kind of sledgehammer tactics being brought to bear against our wildlife. They need more support.
I am in touch with lakhs of wildlife supporters on a regular basis through Sanctuary Asia and Kids for Tigers. I know that never have more people (particularly young people who will reap the bitter harvest being sowed by out-of-touch-with-ecological-reality planners) been more keen to see India’s wildlife safe.
And yet, never have India’s wildlife and our wildernesses been more threatened.
Here are the first steps that Sanctuary will be taking in consultation with others who feel as strongly as we do about the issues:
We shall formulate a communication that will go out to opinion leaders, elected representatives and the media to inform the people of this nation of the truth about the status of our wildlife (not merely megafauna). They must not be lulled into complacency by the public relations machine and misinformation that seeks to deny the tiger crisis, the elephant crisis and indeed, even the climate crisis that is upon us. This endangerment is not merely a result of ‘poaching’ but of “ecosystem destruction by government policy.”
We shall point out that the ecosystems being so carelessly destroyed are the very assets that this generation and the next needs to keep us out of harm’s way from climate change and its handmaidens – floods, droughts, food shortages, disease and uncontrolled human migration. Towards this end a new set of voices – new age economists who understand the connection between ecosystem destruction and economic failure – must be enlisted to counter the flawed economic strategies being pushed by the Planning Commission and the Prime Minister’s Office in the face of the failing ecological health and plummeting water security of our nation.
We will work assiduously to repair the tragic breach created by the false opposition between wildlife supporters and forest rights supporters. The foundation of such rapprochement must be a regime that recognises the primacy of nature followed immediately by the inalienable right of forest people to be the first recipients of all ecosystem benefits, including the supply of forest water for cities and industry.
But and its a big but, we must not fall into the trap of turning forest dwellers into conduits to extract and then supply forest biomass to bottomless urban and rural markets. Rather, such communities must be rewarded as “ecosystem farmers” whose “produce” – fresh water, soil fertility, climate control and food plant security – should fetch fair compensation for their families who have a right to live with dignity, with their traditions intact and with their families assured of food-clothing-housing-education security, in perpetuity.
The alternative is to condemn India’s people to a life of penury and our wildlife to death by government policy.
by Bittu Sahgal, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 3, June 2011.