IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 4 Issue X

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 4 Issue X

This issue of IndiaWilds Newsletter examines the challenges behind Sandalwood Tree in various states, the move to create a National Investment Board and throttle all environmental concerns as well as powers of MoEF, a unique encounter with a Malabar Giant Squirrel, showcases conservation imagery focusing on impact of plastics, unique Natural History moments and many more…

Imprisoned Tree: A Tale of Sandal Wood

We know of people being put behind bars. We see birds and animals put behind bars in the zoos. However, one may not readily remember instances of trees being put behind bars.

Sandalwood trees fenced in Marayur

Fencing done on both sides of the road in Marayur to protect theft of sandalwood trees. The fencing stops wild animals from crossing.

The enclosed image is from Marayoor and it shows the wire fence which is several kilometers long. This fence has been set up to cordon off 92 square kilometers with sandal wood trees numbering about 58000. When I was travelling through the area the first time, I was awestruck. The road passes through the forest and both the sides are fenced. This goes on for several kilometers. In many other places, the Kerala forest department has also placed wire mesh around individual sandalwood trees.

This fencing also results in fragmentation of the habitat for many species. Except smaller animals like mongoose and herpetofauna this wire fencing appears as an insurmountable barrier for other larger animals. During summer months, the animals face a huge challenge to reach waterholes as they need to take a several kilometers long trek.

On the surface the forest department shows that it is protecting the Sandalwood trees. However, despite this fencing, sandal wood trees are still hacked.

There are many Sandalwood factories operating in non-sandalwood growing states. These sandalwood factories fuel the demand for illegal felling and trafficking of the sandalwood trees. In a recent judgement, the Honble Supreme Court of India has taken cognisance of this in the TN Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union of India and had asked for inclusion of Sandalwood in Schedule VI of the Wildlife Protection Act. Unfortunately, on this issue the MoEF had taken a stand that it had no objection in allowing private entrepreneurs to set up factories to process sandalwood in non-sandalwood growing states. The MoEF believes that there are adequate checks and balances in the system to stop the unholy nexus between the factories and smugglers in other states.

Unfortunately, the MoEF stand is completely misguided and its stand in the past has helped in supporting the dark underbelly of the sandalwood mafia. It can be borne by the recent events in Bangalore. First the sandalwood smugglers cut about 90 sandalwood trees in the Jnana Bharathi campus of Bangalore University in July 2012. Since most of the campuses dont have armed guards, the sandalwood mafia find it easier to cut and take away the sandalwood trees. Emboldened by the lack of action, the Sandalwood mafia then outraged the modesty of a student in the Bangalore university campus. (TOI Oct 22, 2012).

However, the Sandalwood mafia not only targets poorly guarded areas, but also have been confident enough to target high security areas. In one daring incident, on 21st of August 2012, the Sandalwood smugglers cut down and removed a 20 year old sandalwood tree from the residence of Justice MM Das of Orissa High Court in Cuttack. In an earlier incident in Maharashtra, three sandalwood trees were cut by smugglers from the Yerawada jail press premises.

The action of various State Governments on this issue are not in sync. The Kerala Government has promised increased protection of the sandalwood trees of Marayur. In a statement made in the State assembly, the Kerala Forest Minister said that a total of 68 forest guards have been deployed to protect the sandalwood trees. The Kerala Forest department has also said that it is talking with KELTRON to insert microchips inside the trees to track if any of those are cut and moved. Since the sandalwood smugglers are known to get state of the art machinery to cut and move the pieces, even if microchips are inserted, those are likely to be dropped at the same place and hence there shouldnt be any signal of movement of the chips. There was another proposal of a cable linked alarm system to alert guards when smugglers breach the fence.

In Maharashtra people can be punished for cutting down a sandalwood tree from private lands according to the Maharashtra Felling of Trees Act, 1964. To benefit the common man and encourage the growing of sandalwood trees, the Social Forestry Department had floated the idea of Tree Credits in the lines of the Carbon Credits so that people growing Sandalwood trees will get benefitted.

The Karnataka Government, in a significant move, has now amended the Section 108 of the Karnataka Forest (Amendment) Act 2001, to allow sandalwood grown on private land

every occupant or holder of land shall be legally entitled to the sandal wood tree in his land except where such sandal wood tree is declared to be the property of the State Government in any grant, lease, contract or other instrument, but such occupant or holder shall not fell or sell such sandal tree or convert or dress sandalwood obtained from such tree or posses, store transport or sell the sandal wood so obtained except in accordance with the provisions of the rules made under this act.

Whereas a few farmers may now get interested in planting sandalwood trees in their land due to the subsidy available from the Karnataka State medicinal Plants Authority and Horticulture Department, the sandalwood trees in the forests will still face a challenge as the heart wood from the sandal wood trees in the forests will still be shown as that coming from the private lands. Unless massive sandalwood plantations come up in private lands the situation is not likely to improve. Even if plantations come up there is a maturity period and hence the sandalwood trees in the forests will continue to face the axe. The future of Sandal Wood tree (Santalum album) will continue to remain bleak unless legislation, protection and prosecution go hand in hand.


Bramhas Folly & Politics behind National Investment Board:

According to Hindu religion, at the beginning of the creation of this universe, when Bramha created the ten Prajapatis they asked him for a wife. Bramha then created a beautiful woman called shatrupa who perambulated around Bramha to pay her obeisance. Bramha was so bowled over by her beauty that he created three more heads on the sides and behind to watch her. Feeling shy she flew to the sky but Bramha sprouted one more head on top to look at her. She then started running away from Bramha by taking many forms of animals and birds and Bramha chased her taking similar male forms of various species. Bramha thus forgets the reason for creating this world and actively participates in preserving and propagating himself. (Devdutt Pattnaik, Myth=Mithya)

A similar story is unfolding with our Government.

Our President during his previous role as Finance Minister had triggered a chain of events that has got numerous ramifications and unfortunately is now haunting the environment ministry and biodiversity of this country.

The Union Budget 2012, had talked about retro-active taxation which was widely believed to be targeted at Vodaphone as the Government wanted Vodaphone to pay taxes for buying up Hutchs telecom business in India. The Governments contention that though the deal was struck abroad it concerns an Indian business and hence Vodaphone had to pay tax.

The retro-active taxation was widely panned by industry as many feared that a lot of deals will now be scrutinsed and it affected the business investment sentiment. To make matters worse the FM had failed to control the fiscal deficit and a trigger happy rating agency downgraded the sovereign rating of India. In all the war of words that followed and the resultant negative investment sentiment, the primary reasons for lack of growth in manufacturing etc are forgotten.

It is quiet natural that in this circumstance, business leaders will use this opportunity to ask for speedy clearances of contentious issues. MoEF is often blamed when many of the large infrastructure projects like roads – where the alignments are drawn without taking into consideration that they are cutting across pristine forests – are refused environmental clearance. Similarly, MoEF is again painted as the villain when a few of the ill-conceived infrastructure projects like mines and power plants in ecologically sensitive areas are not given permission. In this war of words, the business leaders have forgotten that MoEF is in fact their biggest supporter as it has acted like a clearinghouse of projects, irrespective of the impact of the projects on the environment.

Acting on these inputs, the expenditure department of the Union Finance Ministry in a bid to control MoEF and abrogate the powers vested with the MoEF had circulated a drat note for discussion in the cabinet to create a National Investment Board, which among other things will decide and overrule objections of the environment ministry.

Reacting strongly to this note, the Minister for MoEF Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan has written to the Honble Prime Minister. This letters makes for some interesting reading. Among other things, she has mentioned that during the 11thplan period till August 2011, the MoEF has cleared proposals for diversion of forest land to the extent of 2.04 lakh hectares or 0.204 million hectares. In the same period 181 coalmines with a total capacity of 583 million tonnes per annum have been granted. Incidentally this will result in doubling of Indias coal mining capacity. Out of this 113 coalmines required forest clearance and 26,000 hectares of forest land were diverted. Some of these forests lands are as pristine as it can be imagined. For example, the chiria mines in the saranda forests is a dense forest land and is not only the migratory corridor of elephants but also home to large predators like leopards and tiger. The Honble Minister for MoEF had cleared this proposal by overruling the NBW (National Board for Wildlife) and objections from civil society.

An interesting tit-bit from the letter of the Honble Minister for MoEF is the reasoning and the thought process of her ministry. Alluding to the Honble Supreme Courts directions to obtain forest clearance before environmental clearance she has writtenMoEFs role in this is to develop systems that can assess and balance the concerns of different constituencies. It is for this reason that we must understand that project clearance cannot be reduced to an administrative exercise. It is a scientific and political exercise and the concerned ministry has to be accountable for the decision. This indicates that ecologically fragile areas can still sacrificed for political considerations. Perhaps this is the reason for the numerous cases of permissions granted for diversion of forest land and permissions for Chiria mines. Like Bramha who got engulfed in his own creation rather than remaining above it, MoEF is trying to protect important and powerful groups rather than protecting the environment and forests for which it was created in the first place.

Not to be left behind, FICCI which is one of the apex chamber of commerce in this country has jumped to support the proposal for creating a NIB (National Investment Board).

In the coal scam as well as in other areas like spectrum etc, it is clearly seen that getting clearance for extra resources is a big competitive advantage for the corporates. A country ought to use its resources in the most efficient and transparent manner, so mere clearances of projectsdoesn’tbring in any benefit to the economy. For example in the power sector it is far more important to increase the efficiency by reducing the transmission and distribution losses than just increasing production capacity in large polluting thermal power plants. (See Energy Efficiency and Green power)

Whereas people often quote figures about the number of projects stuck due to various issues, one doesnt often look deeper to understand the issues. In the 2G spectrum scam, a corrupt minister along with his accomplices did the damage while others who had the powers didnt choose to oppose him. As a result, firms who had no credentials in that sector like the Unitech etc got the licenses. They in turn sold off to genuine foreign investors. The foreign investors choose to ignore the fact that these firms have got the licenses through fraudulent means. After the Supreme Court cancelled the licenses, there is the inevitable hue and cry resulting in negative investor sentiment.

Similarly, a number of Ultra Mega power projects were awarded to bidders who choose places that are environmentally fragile. These successful bidders had foreign venture capitalists who obviously didnt do proper due diligence. One such Venture Capitalist from Singapore had investments in two Ultra Mega Power projects and both those projects were stuck. I had very clearly pointed out to their representatives that it is their fault for not knowing what their Indian partner is doing. One of the projects which had the blessings of the Andhra Government and had managed to get the MoEF clearance had to be stopped after police firing and death of a local demonstrator. (Save Telineelapuram)

I have seen many such large projects where even the production capacity is not mentioned. The EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) in most of the cases are done for the sake of doing it. This involves some very big brand names as well.

Unfortunately, these events create a bad name for our country. We cannot just blame the unscrupulous promoters, as it also reflects badly on our system. Apex industry associations like FICCI, CII etc should focus on creating a better system rather than pushing for clearances of large projects at any cost. Our Natural Heritage cannot be sacrificed at the altar of a questionable model of development.


Wild India | A Close Encounter

A Close encounter with a Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica)

It was about 6.30 am in the morning on the last day of my field visit to Wayanad and Nagarhole. The last night I had stayed in a coffee estate and about 6.30 am I entered Nagarhole from Kutta. After driving for about ten minutes, I found a Malabar Giant Squirrel about five or six feet above the ground on a tree trunk…Read more


Malabar Giant Squirrel on my shoulder

Wild India | Malabar Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) nibbling my camera strap


Other Conservation Issues:

Villagers chase and drown an Elephant calf in Dalma Hills

Fencing the Dampha Reserve

Gangetic dolphin count goes up

India loses four leopards a week


Conservation Imagery: Bane of Plastics

Polythene in Elephant dung

Garbage all around

Cheetal Chewing Wafers

Lion-tailed Macaque chewing polythene


Natural History:

Tailor bird and Cuckoo by Raj Dhage

Myna Pecking Sambars Sore throat by Mrudul Godbole

Boxer Mantis by Joshi Bhavya


Nature Sounds:

Hear the call of a Changeable Hawk Eagle

(Members need to login in the forum to hear the Nature Sounds. Non-members can register by clicking with Full Name as user id)


Equipment Discussions:

Canon EOS 5D Mark III firmware update

Canon EOS 1D X Firmware update


Image of the Month: September

Congratulations to Sameer Ghodke


Wildlife Photography:

Malabar Giant Squirrel eating Jackfruit by Bibhav Behera

Bharals by Subhajit Chaudhuri

Irritating Tourists by Suraj Sreedhar

Vernal Hanging Parrot by Raj Dhage

Small blue kingfisher with fish by Dr. Jitendra Katre

Jog Falls in a misty morning by Abhishek Jamalabad

Jewel Beetle by Satish Chandra Ranadive

Neon Slug by Sameer Ghodke

Bronzeback Tree snake by Sanjeev KR

Sambars Counterattack


I look forward to your inputs and support in preserving the last tracts of wilderness and wildlife left in our beautiful country. For other interesting articles and images check –

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Sabyasachi Patra
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