Sabyasachi Patra

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue II

The IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue II examines the issue of Naxalism, Governance and its impact on conservation, far reaching implications of MoEF order clearing Girnar Ropeway project and many more. This newsletter is available online. To view and to post your comments check at:

Naxalism, Governance & Conservation

The biggest impediment to India’s path to become a super power is perhaps Naxalism and Water. When he heard this, the corporate big-wig asked me if I am in contact with people like Arundhati Roy. Exasperated, I blurted out that I am not a rebel without a pause and cause. To cut the long story short, the gentleman in question felt that it’s not a problem afflicting us. Is it so?

76 CRPF jawans were killed when they ran into a trap laid down by the Maoists. This led to many media stories and a former Intelligence Bureau director was quoted as saying that Naxalism affects 35% of the population and is spread over 40 percent of the landmass. The Home minister Mr. Chidambaram in an answer to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha has said that there are 83 Naxal affected districts in seven states. A simple arithmetic tells us that it means about 13.33% of districts in India is Naxal hit.

Since analyzing all the naxal hit districts is out of the scope for us, as a rule of thumb if we look at the seven states named by Shri Chidambaram as naxal hit, except perhaps AndhraPradesh and West Bengal to some extent, the other five states namely, Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chattishgarh and Odisha are not known for their Governance. Also the naxal infested areas in these states are in the hinterland “exploited” for its minerals and forest produce. It is a fact that to improve the governance, the states of Jharkhand and Chattishgarh were carved out as separate states.
The other states that are impacted by Naxalites and/or other insurgent groups are parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and the North Eastern States.

The urban population – except for the so called intellectuals – is more or less oblivious to the grave threat posed by the insurgent groups. Of late, the conservationists, wildlife photographers, birders etc have started realizing this problem. Last year, a Maharashtra Government official was abducted while on a visit to Eagle Nest Sanctuary to photograph butterflies. For further details check here http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3916

A PTI news report published in Mumbai Mirror had mentioned that a ransom was paid to get him released. In the latest headline grabbing abduction, six WWF volunteers were kidnapped earlier this month and The Telegraph reports that a ransom was paid to get their release done. For details check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6137

There have been several cases of forest department officials abducted and killed when they could not cough up the demanded ransom. Unofficially, companies operating in these parts of the country admit that they have to bow to the wishes of these extremists in order to run their business. So do we take a moral stand and blame the people, groups or organizations that pay ransom?

It may be pertinent to remind you all about the first incident when the State capitulated in front of the terrorists. On December 8th 1989, Dr. Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then home minister of India Mr. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was kidnapped. It was perhaps the first incident when the Government caved in and released 5 dreaded terrorists in exchange from the release of the Home Ministers daughter.

On December 24th, 1999, the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 was hijacked with 161 passengers. The Government was virtually forced to bend due to the violent protests outside the Delhi airport by the relatives of the passengers. As a result the Government released three dreaded terrorists in exchange for the release of the flight. There was widespread condemnation when the Government capitulated to get the release of the Home Minister’s daughter. However, when it hit the affluent and the middle class in form of hijacking of the flight, there were a lot of people who had changed their tone. Since then, kidnapping has become an easy means to make money for these insurgent groups. Since this has gone out of hand, the security officials are willing to help in negotiations to lower the ransom demanded.

This brings in mind a disturbing question. Why is the Government unable to maintain law and order? Why the Government hasn’t taken adequate steps so far to bring governance within reach of the poor?

In the 1980s, our former Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi had announced during his visit to Kalahandi in Odisha that for every one rupee spent on the poor, only fifteen paise (15 paise) reaches the poor. It is nearly three decades since that historic remark. The situation remains grim as ever. In 2007, Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv Gandhi, has given his own estimates stating that only five paise (5 paise) out of a rupee spent reaches the poor. The question is not how accurate his estimate is; rather the question is why we are in such a pitiable state and where do we go from here?

The alibi of the insurgent groups that lack of Governance is forcing them to take up arms needs to be tackled expeditiously. It is good that the Government has created an Integrated Development Plan for the naxal hit districts. Though I am not sure how effectively this plan would be implemented. The leakages in the system – an euphemism for corruption – remains. Earnings due to the market economy, for example the sale of spectrum to private operators at throwaway prices to warm the pockets of a few, due to the sheer magnitude of 1.76lakh crores of rupees, can just add to the perception of rich becoming richer at the cost of poor. So governance has to be transparent and reach all the citizens.

Though our so called intellectuals think that the naxalites and other insurgent groups are just existing due to the inequalities mentioned earlier, I am afraid that these so called intellectuals are living in a fool’s paradise. The naxals are organized and they are being funded from abroad. They have also taken to illegal mining, narcotics and wildlife trade. For some details about ganja cultivation you may check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/diary/sunabeda-diary-tales-from-a-tiger-census

When I was clicking those images of ganja cultivation, one forester in the neighbouring range was kidnapped. One can realise how traumatic these experiences can be. I am sure the abducted people after their release will think several times before going back to those places. There are areas which have become “No Go” zones for us. Our people living in those areas are eking out a traumatic living facing the burden of terrorists as well as the burden of proving their innocence to the security forces.

In another case, the Disoi reserve forest area has been burnt by miscreants belonging to Nagas in the Nagaland-Assam border. Their plan is to create tea plantations in the area and take control over those. Vast forest areas are burnt down to create villages and the forest department acts as a mute spectator. A very sad example of the lack of governance! For further details one may check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6139

Our natural heritage is in seize. Some of our finest wilderness areas and biodiversity is found in these insurgency affected areas. These forests help in carbon sequestration and virtually serve as our lungs. Unless and until the cancerous nexus between corrupt officials, politicians, industrialist, contractors and insurgent groups are broken, India’s lungs cannot be cured.

It is imperative that the affluent and the middle class – who are now not bothered about this grave threat – open their eyes as they can no longer ignore the reality. Today, as a law abiding Indian, please demand restoration of your constitutional right to work in a safe and secure manner in any part of our country. Are you listening?

Girnar Ropeway clearance: A paradigm shift in Conservation?

The Girnar Ropeway project project was conceived to carry pilgrims by cable car to the shrine on top of Mount Girnar. The fate of this project was hanging in balance for quite some time due to the environment clearances required. In an unfortunate move, the Hon’ble Minister for Environment and Forests, Shri Jairam Ramesh has given clearance to this project. As is the norm these days, the clearance comes with a few conditions attached. The full text of the clearance makes for interesting reading and it can be found here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2228

Setting the context for the clearance, the Hon’ble Minister has mentioned that the Ropeway Project was conceived in 1995 and the Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary was notified in 2008, thereby necessitating a Central Govt. approval. If the State Government wanted then it could have approved the project prior to 2008.
This argument of the Hon’ble Minister is surprising to say the least. Let’s look at this argument in another context. Mrs. Indira Gandhi agreed to the resolution passed in the General Assembly of IUCN in New Delhi to ban Tiger shooting. She then appointed a Task Force and Project Tiger was created. Despite strong protests by the tour operators that they have already booked many clients for tiger shooting, Mrs. Gandhi had banned tiger shooting. If Mrs. Indira Gandhi would have bought the argument of the present day Minister for MoEF, then she would have allowed the tour operators to continue with tiger shooting to fulfill their commitments given to clients from abroad. On a similar vein, Mrs. Indira Gandhi could have also said that tiger the tour operators were inefficient and could not kill all the tigers. So why start a Project Tiger to protect the tigers? I am sure now you can see the absurdity of the reasoning given in the Hon’ble Ministers order. I hope the Hon’ble Minister learns a thing or two from Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

Recently, the deal between Antrix corporation, which is the commercial arm of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) and Devas Corporation has been scrapped. This was done because the Government has realised that Spectrum is a scare resource and its value is much more than what the Antrix Corporation was to get from Devas. So despite an agreement, the Government has scrapped the deal. In sharp contrast, the Hon’ble Minister for MoEF says that if the ropeway project would have been approved before 2008, then it would not have come to him and uses that as a reason for giving clearance.

One Government, but two different reasoning’s! Surprising, isn’t it?

Inaction in the past or faulty decisions taken in the past are corrected when there is more clarity. Inaction or a faulty decision in the past cannot and should not form the basis for our present day decisions.

The Hon’ble Minister further states that “The Girnari Giddh population that is going to be affected by the ropeway project is between 20-25% of the population of long-billed vultures in Gujarat but less than 10% of the population of vultures in the State.”

The Hon’ble Minister certainly seems to creating a new sort of reasoning and setting precedence. He wants to convey that though the ropeway project is perhaps going to wipe out 20-25% of the long-billed vultures, however it is not a cause of concern, as there are other vulture species in the state. This means, if tomorrow black-necked cranes are wiped out, then the MoEF will be unmoved as there are other species of cranes in India. So why are we bothered that the Siberian Cranes are no longer visiting India as there are other species of cranes in India? Why bothered about the white-bellied heron, as there are many heron species found in India? So rather than focusing on conserving individual species, the MoEF will take a “broader” view and would be Ok if only one or two species get wiped out and it would only wake up if an entire genus is on the verge of being wiped out? Perhaps that appears to be the message the Hon’ble Minister wants to convey.

If so, Shri Jairam Ramesh is trying to create a new paradigm for conservation!

The Hon’ble Minister mentions that pilgrims used to be transported through “dolis” and it is a socially unacceptable means of transportation and the proposed ropeway will help in stopping this. A simple question that comes to mind is why not ban “dolis”? It is used in many parts of the country and will continue to be used. If the Hon’ble Minister is so concerned, then he should first talk with his counterparts and ban dolis? Is the Minister willing to take the onus on himself?

The third condition mentioned in the in-principle approval says: “A camera of high resolution will be placed on the 9th tower to monitor movement of vultures and if required, movement of cabins of the ropeways will be regulated in such way as to avoid any accidental collision of vultures with the cabin of ropeway.” I am sure any amateur photographer, how-so-ever rudimentary his or her skills might be, will find this hard to digest.

Of course, this suggestion is eerily similar to a recommendation in the EIA report prepared by NEERI for the Sethusamudram Project. Responding to the issue of dugongs (also referred to as Sea cows) getting hit by passing ships, the NEERI report had said that a trained watcher or pilot should be present on board of ships to keep a look out for dugongs and other marine animals and do course correction when necessary. Anyone with a basic intelligence level can understand that course correction of a large ship is not possible. The recent accident between a Navy Ship and a merchant ship in Arabian Sea tells us the impossibility of making course correction in short distances. Does this tickle a funny bone in you? Well, some of you may consider this condition mentioned in the in principle approval as a massive assault on your intelligence levels; however, I have no words to describe it.

The fourth condition mentioned in the in principle approval asks for a construction of a cafeteria for vultures. “A cafeteria for vultures will be constructed at an appropriate location, to be decided in consultation with the experts, to provide for supplemental feed to the vultures apart from attempting to divert the movement of vultures away from the ropeway”

Is this conservation? A wild and free ranging species is being given food to survive just because we want to knowingly destroy its habitat and make it unable to find food? Is this the conservation model we are going to follow in the future? Does this mean we want to create zoos out of our wilderness areas?

So why do we bother if poachers kill the deers and other prey species? We can always find sufficient wastes from slaughter houses to throw infront of the tigers and lions.

Feeding wildlife has got its own negative consequences. For eg. recent research on song birds suggest that feeding song birds make them miss their dawn chorus and reduces the male mating chances. For further details one may check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5805 . I have no idea whether any such research has been conducted on vultures.

This single order of the Hon’ble Minister for MoEF Shri Jairam Ramesh has got far reaching implications on conservation. The conservation scenario will not remain the same again.

Auctioning Wildlife:

In a bizarre incident, the forest minister of West Bengal Shri Ananta Ray wants to auction wildlife as he feels there are too many of them. He feels that there are too many elephants, tigers, leopards etc and they should be sold in auction to private parties or sold to zoos abroad. I can only say this is a Theater of the Absurd!

For further details, you may check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6134

Clearance to Chiria Mines in Saranda Forests:

The Hon’ble Minister for MoEF has given the clearance to SAIL to mine this area which is a critical elephant corridor and habitat. On one hand the Hon’ble Minister has agreed with the Elephant Taskforce report and created a Project Elephant, on the other hand he throws the suggestion of the task force report not to fragment the Saranda forests by mines. For further details you may check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6068

Posco Project gets the clearance:

As is the case these days, the Posco project has been cleared by the MoEF, albeit with a host of conditions, some of those pretty vague, to make it appear that the MoEF is doing its job. For further details you may check here: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2726

As I had mentioned earlier, Lavassa Project was cleared; Navi mumbai airport was given permission on the pretext of money already sunk in and because a lot of time will be needed to create an airport at another location. Jaitapur nuclear power plant project was termed as strategic priority (The masters of strategy like Tsun tzu who wrote the famous art of war must be twisting and turning in his grave due to the loose use of the word strategy). And now the clearance given to Posco! India’s wilderness areas are facing an unprecedented assault. The situation is really grim. I am not sure if the future generations will ever forgive us for our follies.

Natural History:

Palm Squirrels mating by Ragoo Rao: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5923
Macaque intertroop siblings by Ragoo Rao:
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5136

Wildlife Photography:

Images shared by our members between 10th Jan 2011 – 9th February, 2011 that depict interesting animal behaviour or are just plain beautiful.

Lion by Dipankar Mazumdar
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6015

Jackal Mating series – 1 by Atul Dhamankar
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6015

Running Sambar by Bhargava Srivari
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6029

Common Coot by Amit Kalele
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6040

Blackheaded ibis by Tushar Dixit
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6039

BK- Basking in Sun by Praveen Siddannavar
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5865

When bugs can be interesting by Bibhav Behera
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5893

Abstract hibiscus by Jitendra Katre
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5940

Sad story of cormorant caught in fishing net by Bhargava Srivari
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=5998

Equipment discussions:

Photography Equipment: Some views http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6065
New Canon 200-400 F4 L IS Lens: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6070
New canon Super telephoto lens prices: http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6080

I 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:
http://www.indiawilds.com/forums/

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Regards,
Sabyasachi Patra
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Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning Cinematographer and shoots for international broadcasters, feature films and corporates to make a living. He is a passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer and has won awards and accolades for his documentary 'A Call in the Rainforest'. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
Sabyasachi Patra
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