I penned these words together with Valmik Thapar, tiger defender, as far back as September 1996. But they could have been written year after year, because very little real action actually emerged in India to protect our wildlife, including the tiger. In the intervening years tiger habitats continued to be sacrificed to dams, mines and roads and state forest departments continued to be deprived of even the barest minimum political support. More money was allocated by our economists to build a single sea link bridge in Mumbai than was allocated to protect ALL of India's wildlife. This resource deprivation, when coupled with rampant corruption and poor governance is why tiger numbers have consistently fallen.
This is what forces NGOs of all descriptions to step into the breach to equip state forest department with uniforms, shoes, wireless sets, build guard huts and what have you. This should have been the responsibility of government. Think. When did you last hear of NGOs getting together to buy uniforms for the armed forces or police? Why then have our forest departments been so shabbily treated?
Could things be changing for the better? Well, yesterday (March 18, 2010) when the National Board for Wildlife met in New Delhi, the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on the exhortation of Valmik Thapar, finally agreed to allow a Department of Wildlife to be set up within the Ministry of Environment and Forests. This was something all those who understood what wildlife conservation was about had been demanding for over a decade.
Jairam Ramesh, Minister E&F, has thus been given a chance to create history by putting the PM's commitment to wildlife protection into action. The first beneficiaries will obviously be the tiger, lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and all the creatures that share their forest home. But a welcome by product of this decision will be the ecosystem benefits that will now flow to millions of Indian's whose rivers, soils and climate will be that much more reliable thanks to the contribution of critical wildlife habitats to our ecological security. Of course, because these forest sequester and store carbon more effectively than any human geo-engineering dream can, the subcontinent will also be a touch safer to live in, in an era of climate change.
So. It appears we have been given yet another 1,000 days to save the tiger. But to understand just how slow and arduous the path has thus far been, read the extract below that underscores the frustration and pain of trying to protect the wildlife of India, devoid of political support, and good governance.
Hopefully we will be second time lucky.
Extract: 1,000 Days to Save the Tiger, Sanctuary Asia, September 1996 -
"The tiger has no more time to tolerate paper pushers, file movers, committee watchers or administrative restrictions. A handpicked and motivated team of people with a clear cut mandate from the Prime Minister's office must be instructed to work within a time-bound framework. Within 36 months - l ,000 days - this team must cut across 17 states to network men and resources to form an armour of protection for the tiger and all that live under its umbrella. No national purpose could be better served than by undertaking this one crucial step because, little known to most economists, the tiger is a symbol of India's water security. Its forests are the source of our most reliable water supplies. If these go, India goes."
"On January 11, 1995, an anguished three-page letter was therefore addressed to the then Environment Minister on behalf of all the members of the Tiger Crisis Cell. Extacts read as follows:
- We regret to state that our advice has been lightly taken and steps have sometimes been taken which are diametrically opposed to our recommendations... if the Ministry is not going to listen to those it appoints to advise it, then it should be prepared to face public criticism which its action or inaction is bound to have on the future of Panthera tigris.
- An anti-poaching Task Force should be immediately enabled to seek, search and destroy poaching gangs which are operating without let or hinderance. The force will have to be strong on three separate fronts i) Investigation and detection ii) Seize and Capture and iii) Legal follow-up.
- We require no further meetings, nor any new ‘Action Plans'. This stage has long passed.