Royale finish

Politics preys on wildlife

Published: Thursday 31 March 2005

-- the wildlife crisis in in Rajasthan is getting buried in political rhetoric. Recently, prime minister (pm) Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, asking for action to protect the tiger and its habitat. Raje professed to be shocked, "Because the pm didn't show similar concern for people dying of thirst." This smacks of a blame game -- a Bhartiya Janata Party leader reproaching the Congress government at the centre. What about being a responsible and effective administrator?

The concern about wildlife habitats -- the Sariska Tiger Reserve, the Ranthambore National Park, the Keoladeo National Park (knp) at Bharatpur -- is not misplaced. The chief minister is perhaps unaware that the foodchain is interlinked: threaten one component and the entire ecosystem is at risk. A narrow 'political' rationale cannot tackle such a web. Moreover, protecting habitats also implies safeguarding interests of communities, indeed their survival. Therefore, the 'bickering' is not only about a few tigers!

Indeed, it's easy to shrug off one's responsibility. In Sariska non-commitment is responsible for vanishing tigers. It is alleged Sariska directorate aided poachers; as a cover up, the pugmark method of counting tigers was abused, to inflate numbers. If so, why waste crores every year on namesake protected areas? Why not provide water to the "thirsty"? Among other things, it would strengthen vote banks, which also exist in wildlife habitats, in human form only.

Take knp. Earlier, people wanted a safeguard from floods; hence, the Panchana dam. More people want to grow crops; hence, the dam's capacity was increased. The water could not be limited to only a few farmers; hence, the command area was increased. People are more important than birds; hence, flow is blocked at the dam itself. In all, its about control: aren't local politicians with the people only?

The solution being promoted is unique. Water for agriculture will be taken through a pipeline to the command area of a dam. In fact, this is merely a delay tactic to tide over till the next crisis. All groups involved -- farmers at Panchana and Bharatpur and wildlife experts -- now believe water will come to them. Now, who could have created this impression? Is there an agreement on how water is to be shared among all interests? We don't think so.

Will Raje tackle Rajasthan's wildlife crisis? We don't think so.

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