June 2008: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an honourable man. And he would probably be just as moved as you or I at the sight of this strapping, young tiger striding across a path in Corbett, among the few safe havens left in India.
The difference between Dr. Singh and the rest of us is that he would probably add: “I too want tigers saved, but I have a greater responsibility to the people of this country and must leave the task of saving tigers to the forest guards you see in the image.”
Respectfully, Dr. Singh, if this is indeed your view, it is dangerously off-track. Let me try to explain why.
For five long decades, this country has left wildlife protection to ill-equipped forest officials, a few presumed eccentrics and non-governmental organisations who attempt to plug the yawning gaps between what the government does and what it should be doing to safeguard India’s ecological security. Meanwhile, hopelessly misdirected and very, very expensive developmental priorities continue to trample forests, coasts, corals, lakes, rivers, grasslands, mountains and deserts.
The justification? “Protecting nature is a luxury.” Given this position – freely taken by politicians, economists, bureaucrats and a disturbingly large number of corporate heads – the more visible our campaign to save the tiger becomes, the more hard-nosed the opposition to protecting the cats and their habitats.
For the record:
1. The tiger is a metaphor for India’s ecological foundation.
2. If India’s ecological underpinnings are weakened, its economy will collapse.
3. The tiger’s forests are crucial to our battle to counter climate change.
Politicians or anyone else for that matter who challenges the above should be willing to debate the issue on national television with Sanctuary magazine in a fair and constructive manner. We would prove that protecting tigers is in India’s best financial interests and that sacrificing natural ecosystems for short-term political or financial gains will destroy India’s internal security and harm the poorest of the poor.
On June 5, 2008, World Environment Day, this is the message being sent out by Sanctuary to industry associations such as the Confederation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (CII), the Association of Chambers of Commerce (ASSOCHAM) and the Indian Merchant’s Chamber (IMC). We are also sending this message out to every Member of Parliament and to the heads of all political parties.
Our purpose is not to stir confrontation – rather, it is to resolve differences so that we can get on with the crucial task of nation-building as if tomorrow mattered.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVIII No. 3, June 2008