CORRUPTION AND WILDLIFE

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

Why do I strongly support the national uprising against corruption? Because, apart from all the personal indignity inflicted by blackmailing opportunists on ordinary, law abiding citizens, corruption is the single greatest bludgeon used by thugs of all descriptions (white collar and no collar!) to deforest India and kill its wildlife. India has the finest wildlife laws in the world, but corruption from top to bottom renders implementation almost impossible.

Thus, officials, experts and even scientists are 'induced' to certify forests stocked with wildlife as having 'no biodiversity value'... which leaves them open for mining, roads, dams and the like. Poachers caught red-handed are frequently freed by police and forest officials who doctor cases designed to fail in court. And yes, I hold the Prime Minister's Office responsible for this because in the past decade the political support for forest and wildlife protection has taken a body blow. Post lie vacant. Staff salaries are unpaid for months. The protection force is made up of more temporary workers than ever before because there is a 'ban on recruitment'. How does this connect with corruption? By making the illegal wildlife trade the true employers of several hundred underpaid people who are appointed to protect our wildlife, but provided with no resources, or incentive, or even dignity by our myopic planners.

As the Anna saga moves into high gear, I look forward to examples being made of those who are investigated and found guilty of facilitating fraudulent environmental clearances. Such individuals are selling India down the drain by collaborating with those who have made it their business to turn our nation's survival assets -- corals, mangroves, coasts, forests, wetlands, grasslands and mountains -- to cash.

And, it might interest those who imagine that this kind of corruption is a peripheral concern, to ponder over the fact that the illegal trade in wildlife is now the third largest illegal trade in the world after arms and narcotics. Because our economists, including our Prime Minister, believe that wildlife is a relatively low-priority national concern, our natural treasury has been left virtually unprotected and this is now financing insurrectionists, separatists, the underworld and, of course, the many white-collar middlemen that funnel funds back into politicians' pockets. This lot has discovered that in India you can get away with anything by paying your way out.

This is why we believe that we are hearing the last and final call, not just of the Bengal Tiger, but of almost all our wildlife species, which are being forced to retreat into into smaller and smaller parcels of forests where they receives less and less protection.

Fighting corruption, therefore, is as good a way to protect wildlife as any that anyone could come up with.