Sabyasachi Patra

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol 2 Issue VIII

Democracy, Activism and the Power of “WE”

Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address had eloquently outlined the principles on which the edifice of a democracy is built “all men are created equal.and that Government of the people, by the people, for the people…”. It is generally accepted that these principles are not just limited to the United States of America, but also equally applicable to any democracy in the world. So the public is indeed the Government and the elected representatives are their nominees in running the administration on behalf of the people.

Unfortunately, the Governance has become increasingly alienated from the people. The corrupt and the powerful have in many cases usurped the power and have been dictating terms and the people are at the receiving ends. There is a day light robbery of our natural heritage and most of the people choose to turn a blind eye due to the fear of inviting wrath of these unscrupulous criminals.

Of course there are a few people like Amit Jethwa, who had used the Right to Information Act (RTI) to find information about the illegal mining around Gir and had singlehandedly fought against the perpetrators of this crime. Unfortunately, he was felled by their bullets right in front of the Gujarat High Court.

It’s been a month since he was murdered however; the culprits have not been brought to book. Of course some say that there have been more audacious murders – right inside a court premises – I feel debating about the audacity of the crime or the fearlessness of activist or the seeming inability of the police in tracking down the real culprits has sidetracked us from driving important lessons from this tragic incident.

In a country where it takes ages for a case to get heard in various courts, justice is not only delayed, but also throttled if the aggrieved party is unable to pursue it with doggedness. In such a scenario, there are not many people to take on the corrupt and wrongdoers. The unscrupulous criminal elements exploit this reluctance of people and continue with their nefarious deeds. Hence the murder of a fearless activist results in demotivating the already dwindling number of activists.

So what do we do?

Do people stop raising their voice out of fear for their lives? Do we get cowed down and keep quiet when there is loot of our wild heritage?
Obviously not.

Any man, however powerful and courageous he may be, will find it difficult to face a large number of enemies. A lion heavily outnumbered by hyenas is forced to leave the kill. Strength lies in numbers!
It is important for activists to get organized into groups to take on the challenge of the mighty and the corrupt. In the past, I have been threatened of physical assault in the field. In such situations, it is important to not lose your mind, but to immediately look after your physical safety and then plan an alternate approach. One may feel that he/she retreating from the field when challenged is akin to losing a battle. Your ego may be deflated. However, please be reminded that you may lose a battle but the goal is to win the overall war.

There are many persons playing important roles in saving our wilderness areas by working behind the scenes. For them, the satisfaction of seeing the goal come to fruition is more important than public adulation. I have seen lot of youngsters tempted to hog the limelight in print and electronic news channels by using information gleaned through the RTI Act. It may give you two seconds of glory, however anything that is not planned well can hurt you as well as the cause.

Please remember that aggressiveness is a state of mind. It need not be displayed in your physical interactions with the “enemies of biodiversity”. You are all committed individuals. Your life is important. However, I am not asking you to give up your commitment towards preserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife. I am just asking you to change your ways of doing it.

These days it is easy for us to network. Please harness the power of the “we”. Instead of rushing headlong all alone please act as a group. Of course if you want to look like a hero in the eyes of the common man, then it is a different story. I don’t think trying to create a flash in the pan is the right approach. It is important to follow a cause that you believe in and follow it to its logical conclusion.

This was the logic behind establishing the IndiaWilds forums – to nurture and use the power of the “we”. Shri Wajahat Habibullah, Chief Information Commissioner concurred with this view. He told me that it is likely that individual activists will continue to be targeted. The remedy is through social audit of an area or project. Instead of an individual, a group of people can come together and seek a social audit under Section 2-J of the RTI Act. This Social audit can be conducted under media glare and take the corrupt people headlong.
I would like to request all of you to keep the overall goal of preserving the wilderness and wildlife in mind and work towards saving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness areas and wildlife and at the same time look after your safety. After all, getting committed and passionate people is not easy these days.

Wildlife Conservation News from States: The Good, Bad and Ugly
In the recent past, there have been several actions by various forest departments, some good and some not so good and some utterly despicable. Let us examine a few.

The Assam forest department has taken a lead in implementing a few noteworthy actions. It has become the first state to arm its force. In a recent notification, the Assam Government has provided immunity to all ranks of forest staff from prosecution for using firearms in discharging their duties. This is a good move as the importance of forests has now been understood and the role of our frontline forest staff is recognized. I hope the next step would be the provision of food and rations for these frontline forest staff. For further details you may check here:

In another move, the Assam forest department has inducted women into the workforce. Although, I never see this as a move towards gender equality, I think this is good because women who want to get involved in the forest department can now join. When women can undertake the arduous climb to the top of the mighty Himalayas, I am sure they can join as forest guards. In some cases, for people living on the edges of the forests, being a forest guard may be the only job they can get. And depriving someone a job just due to a gender may not be right. I believe with proper training, they can really fit in. With proper safeguards in terms of harassment policies etc, this seems to be a very workable idea. I am happy that Assam is taking a lead in innovative policies. For further details please check here:

Madhya Pradesh:
On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh which is popular for the visibility of its tigers in some of its National Parks, has introduced a policy to allow forest guards to take tourists during their patrolling duties in the tiger reserves. This appears to be a case of bowing to the tourism lobby.

As such our forest departments have insufficient staff and most of them are over aged and not physically fit. And on top of it, the level of motivation is often low due to the insufficient salaries, untimely payment of salaries etc. Too often the forest guards are found running errands for their seniors. It is needless to say that our patrolling gets very less preference. In such a situation, if the guard is asked to take tourists, then the patrolling is more or less converted into a trek. It is naturally expected that the guard has to look after the well being of the tourists during such jaunts. It would be good if the tourist oriented trekking schemes and patrolling is kept separated as it is likely to dilute the seriousness of the patrolling duties. No concrete structures should ever be constructed to help in the trekking schemes. If any trekking scheme is conceived, then it has to be based on the carrying capacity of the forest and after careful consideration of its impact. It should not be surreptitiously introduced under the garb of patrolling. Further details on this can be found here:

Andhra Pradesh:
The Chief Wildlife Warden of Andhra Pradesh has ordered Wild boars to be culled on the pretext of crop destruction. Further details can be found here:

Whether it is the permission to set up captive power plants ( ) in ecologically fragile wetlands or proposal to set up memorials in pristine forests of NSRT ( ) or the culling of wild boars, Andhra Pradesh seems to have taken a leadership role in desecrating our sacred biodiversity.

Jumbo in Revenge Attack on Trains:
In an incident that indicates the trauma the elephants would have undergone in seeing trains runover their kith and kin, a lone bull elephant has head butted trains in Gulma forests near Jalpaiguri. Elephants are intelligent creatures and can communicate over long distances. The violent death of elephants under the wheels of a train must have affected not only the elephants in the immediate vicinity, but also elephants who were several kilometers away. Parallels can be drawn from Africa, where adolescent bulls went on the rampage and started killing rhinos. This behaviour was observed after some of the elder members of the herd were culled. It is sad that despite repeated deaths, the railways are not willing to wake up to the reality. In the days of fast train services, creating alternate alignments won’t increase the time duration of the journey.
For further details please check here:

Natures’ Price Tag: An article by Ranbir Mahapatra. For further details please check here:

Government Rejects Proposal to split Indian Forest Service:

The Government has rejected the proposal to create a split the Indian forest service and create a separate department for Wildlife. I feel it would be pertinent to share the views of Late Kailash Sankhala on this topic:

“In new India, several new departments have been raised with success to meet the specialized demands of law and order, like the Home Guards, Coast Guards and Border Security Force, and of scientific management in the areas of space, environment, telecommunication, radio and television and many more. It is a pity that Wildlife Reserve Management, which is a specialized job involving the scientific conservation of nature, still continues to be in the hands of woodcutters and exploiters and the proposed department is still being endlessly debated. This is despite the successful demonstration of its functional viability, as an independent organization, by Project Tiger. They seem to enjoy the passion of possession without responsibility and that too by dictat. An Indian Forest Service for Wildlife and Reserves is imperative with its own training programme.”
For further details you may please check here:

Wildlife Photography:

Dhole killing Cheetal fawn by drowning: Praveen Siddannavar

Tiger Cub at Bandhavgarh: Rajiv Gautam

What do I do with this now: Jitendra Katre

Tiger entering water: Atul Dhamankar

Purple rumped subird: Amit Kalele

Small blue Kingfisher: Praveen Siddannavar

Oriental white eye: AB Apana

Indian Skipper: Vikram Gupchup

Lime Butterfly Mudpuddling – Viswanath M K

Scratchy Croc: Bibhav Behera

Natural History:
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Gaur Snorting

Elephant behaviour before charge

Look forward to your inputs and your support in preserving the last tracts of wilderness and wildlife left in this beautiful country. For other interesting articles and photographs please check:

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Sabyasachi Patra
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