Guarding The Realm
February 2011: These armed guards in the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh and their compatriots across India, risk life and limb daily to protect our wildlife from poachers, encroachers, forest fires, illegal timber merchants, graziers, firewood and tendu patta collectors.Between 1973 and 1985, the late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, forced wildlife laws to be seriously implemented. Foot patrols were then the strike strategy to protect tigers. In response, Panthera tigris made such a dramatic recovery that Project Tiger became known as the most successful conservation project in the world.
That was then.
Today the threats to the tiger have risen in direct proportion to the Indian politician’s vanishing will to save our wildlife. We desperately need a return to foot patrols.
But that will not be enough for India’s second tiger recovery.
Why? Because even if every forest in India was effectively patrolled by motivated, trained and well-equipped forest guards our natural heritage would continue to wither. Why? Because entrenched neo-classical economists in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Planning Commission harbour an irrational, quasi-religious belief that protecting natural ecosystems is a luxury, a painful ‘sacrifice’ that slows the economy and impedes GDP growth.
Modern economists, by contrast, point out that with climate change having moved into high gear (floods in Pakistan, Australia, China, the U.S., Leh in the Himalaya, heat waves in Russia, cold waves in Europe and droughts in central India), ecosystem regeneration is the most scientific, cost-efficient way to shore up India’s water, food and economic security. They say this would help India mitigate and adapt to climate change, while creating millions of green jobs for villagers, green business opportunities and green energy options. Not protecting ecosystems, they insist, will end up eroding the GDP holy grail so dear to neo-classical economists.
Seen in this light, the soul-sucking financial scams involving mining, road-building and project construction in forests, coasts, wetlands, grasslands and mountains across India must be recognised for what they are – the get-rich-quick, personal agenda of a conglomerate of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. With help from sharp lawyers (and slush funds), these self-appointed saviours of our nation are rapidly obliterating wildlife corridors, buffers and even the sacrosanct core areas of our protected forests. Today such people pose an even greater threat to the tiger, rhino, elephant, olive Ridley turtle and whale shark than the Sansar Chands and would-be Veerappans of the world who must, mercifully, operate outside the law. This reality is what we must come to terms with if the brave forest guards seen here are to have any hope at all of guarding the realm. Play y9 games online for children.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 1, February 2011